Sunday, August 02, 2020

Trans Iowa Stories: The Volunteers

We had two volunteers for T.I.v1 which were located at the only checkpoint.
 "Trans Iowa Stories" is an every Sunday post which helps tell the stories behind the event. You can check out other posts about this subject by going back to earlier Sunday posts on this blog. Thanks and enjoy!

Trans Iowa was a huge undertaking that never would have worked without the selfless service given by some of the best people I've ever had the chance to work with. They were the Volunteers.

The history of the volunteer crews for Trans Iowa was one of ever changing ideas and implementations until T.I.v7 where we pretty much had the system down which lasted for the remainder of Trans Iowa's historic run.

We started off humbly and too simply with Jeff Kerkove's parents as our only volunteers at the only checkpoint. Dave and Linda Kerkove were staunch supporters of Jeff and were some of the nicest folks you'd ever want to meet. They not only volunteered for the first two Trans Iowa events, but they put this stranger up twice during recons at their home in Algona, fed me, and regaled me with stories about Jeff's childhood, much to Jeff's embarrassment. I almost felt as though I were one of the family. To this day I still recall their kindness with a fondness in my heart and a sharp remembrance of Linda's Scotcheroos.

From there we had several people come and go through the years, but instead of trying to list them all, or give you any stories about individuals here, I will speak in more general terms. Besides, I would invariably forget someone and rather than risk offense, I will stick to stories concerning how volunteers were organized, instructed, and deployed. Individual stories that are important to Trans Iowa events have, and will be, added as the series unfolds. Note: That said, here is an earlier post from the blog after v10 which has a short rundown about the volunteers year by year up to that point.

One thing a lot of people don't know about Trans Iowa v2 is that we had a secret observer ready to watch riders pass by about 50 miles from the finish line in Decorah. Obviously, I called that individual off as the event participants never even reached the mid-course checkpoint. But due to the mysterious ending to Trans Iowa v1, and the chastisement from Deke Gosen regarding our lax tracking of riders, I was determined to address that for v2. By the way, Jeff and I would have been the ones at the finish line had the event gone all the way through to the end that year.
A couple volunteers look on at T.I.v8's Secret Checkpoint as riders service themselves.

With more checkpoints, I needed more folks, and how they came to help was almost never, that I can remember, an issue. Most of the time I never had to ask for anyone to help more than once, and most times I never had to put out a call at all, because so many folks wanted to help. In fact, almost every year of Trans Iowa's run I actually turned away people who wanted to volunteer. This always amazed me. Of all the issues I had with regard to this event, getting quality volunteers was never one of them.

I learned early on that I needed more people at the first checkpoint, and maybe only a couple at subsequent checkpoints since the riders would get strung out so far that two people could handle things with ease. However; that first checkpoint was often times a scrum of activity, especially so when we went to the "short" first leg in v5.

In organizing that crew, I almost always left everything in the hands of whomever wanted to take the reins and be the crew leader. Different folks ended up becoming standouts in this role over the years. Most times I just handed off the supplies, made a few suggestions and a request or two, strictly told the leader that the cut-off for time was not to be compromised, and otherwise left things to those folks to figure out. I never was a micro-manager of affairs, and my volunteers NEVER let me down. In fact, they went WAY above and beyond the call of duty MANY times.

I don't know exactly why it was, but many of my volunteers would be past veterans of the event itself. This started up during Trans Iowa v4 and went on throughout the rest of the event's lifetime. People would ride the event and then tell me, almost right after riding in a Trans Iowa, that they should be marked down as a volunteer for the following year. I also had a suggestion made to me that volunteers should get a "free pass" to enter the following year's Trans Iowa, so may riders came from that end of things- being a volunteer first, then getting to ride in Trans Iowa. I finally cut that offer out when I had one guy get all bent out of shape because I wouldn't let him ride after he had volunteered a couple of years prior.  See, that wasn't the deal. You had to take your chance immediately the following year. You couldn't "bank an entry" for the future. So, instead of having that headache pop up again, I just binned the idea. That was really the only headache I ever had with a volunteer.

Making sure each rider got their T.I.v12 cues, Mike Baggio, a perennial volunteer for T.I.
The bottom line for any event in the eyes of its participants is how their experience was for them. If they had troubles, well, then the event was poor to some degree. Processes and logistics certainly play into this, but 'the face of the event' while it is happening is usually born by the volunteers. If those people are inept, not encouraging, slow, mean spirited, lazy, etc.- well then that trumps anything else having to do with rider experience and your event will suffer. Like I said, I put a LOT of trust in the volunteers hands, and I NEVER was let down. This was reflected every year in the comments I received about how my volunteers were so great and encouraging. How they were competent and caring.

I always felt very uncomfortable receiving these comments because they did not really belong to me. They belonged, and still belong, with each individual volunteer from any Trans Iowa. I am deeply indebted to each individual who came to help me and this event out. It may be a cliche', but this would not have been the kind of event it turned out to be without all the volunteers throughout the years.

Some of you reading these words were there and volunteered. This is for you. Some of you reading these words know someone or two that volunteered at Trans Iowa- please thank them for me. Some of the old volunteers of past Trans Iowas have gone on to help other events. They bring a lot of worth with them. They were, and are, some really great people.

Thank you Volunteers from the bottom of my heart! 

Next: An encouraging word from an unlikely source.

1 comment:

Exhausted_Auk said...

Second your comments about Jeff's parents. They were very kind to me at TIv1 as well. Two of the nicest people I have ever met.