As competitors emerge from Alta Lake after the 3.9 km swim portion of the Ironman Canada triathlon Sunday morning, Tom Fitzgerald and his team will be there to offer what help is needed and to give high-fives of encouragement.
Fitzgerald is one of approximately 2,700 volunteers who will put in a total of 3,000 hours to make Whistler's second Ironman possible.
Last year Fitzgerald, 32, was a newcomer to Whistler, so he volunteered for the resort's first Ironman as a way to meet people, he said.
He was assigned to the sunscreen team in 2013, and over his five-hour shift he had so much fun, and met so many great people, that when the opportunity arose this year to be one of the event's 98 team captains, he said he jumped at the chance.
"I love Whistler and I want to give back to the community," Fitzgerald said.
Captains are responsible for recruiting, training and managing volunteers.
Fitzgerald has 35 sunscreen volunteers on his team — 15 for the morning swim-to- bike transition and 20 for the afternoon bike-to-run transition. He guestimates so far he has put in around eight hours of his time, but on race day he plans to be at the event from 5 a.m. until midnight, when the last competitors are expected to cross the line.
His advice to fellow volunteers is simple: "Bring a smile."
Donna Savage, Ironman's volunteer director, said people of all ages and backgrounds volunteer for the triathlon. She said around a third of volunteers are related to an Ironman participant. Others, like Fitzgerald, do it for the fun, or social aspect of it and others are former participants.
Longtime Whistler resident Maridee Fitch falls into the latter category. She competed last year and this year is a volunteer group leader for the swim to bike transition, at Rainbow Park.
"To (race) two years in a row is a bit more than I wanted to bite off," she said.
"But I had such a positive experience last year that I just wanted to be a part of it."
As a racer, Fitch said she saw firsthand how motivating words of encouragement from volunteers could be.
"That is so important," she said, adding she was able to complete the race thanks in part to the volunteer support she received along the route.
Volunteer jobs vary from finish-line catchers — one of the most sought after positions, according to Savage — to wetsuit peelers, who help swimmers get out of their suits before Fitzgerald and his sunscreen team slather them up, to a crew that picks up the garbage.
Savage, who worked with volunteers at the 2010 Winter Olympics, said Whistler has long had a culture of volunteerism.
"We have people who volunteer weekend after weekend and the Olympics certainly took advantage of that culture," she said.
Savage pointed to the legion of volunteers Whistler events, such as Crankworx, Tough Mudder and GranFondo are able to rally.
"Our community is amazing as far as their ability to get the job done," she said.
Individuals can register to volunteer for this year's Ironman online at www.ironman.ca until 4 p.m. Friday July 25, or in person up to and including race day, July 27, at the volunteer tent in Whistler Olympic Plaza.
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