The TriWives would love to share with you a story of how one of our families became hooked not only on triathlons, but on finding a way to give back and actually have fun in the process. We believe that volunteering at races, whether as a family or as a solo supporter, is a great way to meet people, get involved, and show your appreciation to the race site communities. To get kids involved is no easy feat – read how we did it and maybe your family can, too….
Many partners of triathletes pass through various stages of “enlightenment” on the journey from the dream of racing to reality. I liken these to 12 step programs. My personal steps went something like this:
- Triathlons will be so much fun and he is so happy training and working so hard for the “A” race.
- Wait, I thought you were just doing a little local Olympic race and then we could go for a family brunch after….
- How much are you spending on that bike?
- Why are you getting up at 4:30 am and will you be back for breakfast?
- You have to do a brick on Sunday? What the heck is that????
- We’re vacationing where?????
- How many magazines can they honestly write about this sport??
- Our friends really don’t care that you’re deciding between Asics and K Swiss sneakers, nor do they know who Craig Alexander is. I want to be invited back for dinner.
- Are the Go Daddy signs done? We need more cowbells…..
- Isn’t it about time to pick the races for next year? Can we see which races Carl & Guy are doing?
- Bags packed, let’s go, it’s already 4:30…..
- We’re vacationing where? Lake Placid and Cedar Point sound really fun…..
Does this sound familiar? Seven years ago my husband decided to do triathlons. This quickly became a family activity by default and to be honest, a very good thing for our family dynamics. I first thought triathlons were going to be a passing fad for my trihubby, but as soon as I realized they were here to stay, I had to change my thought process, develop a new attitude, and after that, repeat with the kids; triathlons after all, are family affairs.
First, my husband and I quickly came to understand the value this sport could have on our health, well-being, the community, and personal experiences; triathlons are not just “a race”. We traveled to sites, both for day trips and vacations around the world, realizing what these towns and cities were providing us with and we wanted to show our appreciation. Even at our local races here in Austin, we knew we could do more.
Think of this – two pre-teens getting up before dawn to stand in the dark and then wait, and wait, and wait….not happy children and ergo, not a happy mom! Many people choose to just stay home while their triathlete goes to the races, but this was not an option for me. We believe, as parents, that there is great value in supporting each other and although our kids may be grumpy now, later they would appreciate these early mornings. At least that is our thinking…..
How did we make it work; we volunteered. We surmised that if they were involved and kept busy, they wouldn’t have time to stand around whining – not saying my kids ever whine….. We started at a local race as a family a week before the event, stuffing the swag bags. We had a great night and met a great group of people. The volunteer coordinator asked the kids if they would like to help race morning, directing athletes from body marking to T1. Much to my surprise, they actually said yes. It was the best!
For their efforts, they were given free breakfast tacos, a cool t-shirt, and glow sticks to direct people with and seemed to actually be pleased. It even got better when happy triathletes said thank you and gave them high fives – they really felt a part of it all. Our shift came to an end when T1 closed and we headed down to the swim start. On the way, the volunteer coordinator saw my kids and asked if they could help out at the finish line giving out cold towels, and they did. By this point, they were hooked, happy, active, and saw their tridad a lot. At the end of the race, this time it was not me and the kids waiting for our athlete to finish, but me and the athlete waiting for our pre-teens to come out of the volunteer tent with their pizza…
Since that first race, the kids have volunteered at numerous local and Ironman events and continue to seem genuinely engaged. They even babysit for other families during full races to give moms a break. I thought since it worked for us, it might work for you, too. Here are some tips I can give you to start your kids out volunteering:
- Our favorite places to volunteer at any race when starting out are body marking and transition. At a full distance race, swim to bike transition is good, but stay away from changing tents.
- Don’t let them be bike catchers. There is no need for them to worry about $10,000 bikes!
- Do not put them in harms way – theirs or the athletes. Places like bike aid stations are not where they should be as one wrong move can cause an accident. Younger kids are great sign holders and wonderful at cheering.
- Volunteer early in the day, so you can see your athlete cross the finish line.
- Make sure you read the volunteer guidelines carefully before you sign up and stick to the rules; just don’t assume doing something is okay.
- Go to the volunteer training session.
It has now been six years since we started volunteering at triathlons and the spirit of volunteering has spread to school and community events. My kids always bring their school forms to have signed for volunteer hours and have way more hours than they need. In fact, this morning at 5:30AM, I had a room full of sleepover teenage girls that had to be woken up, fed, and gotten out the door. See, they were volunteering at the finish line at a local Olympic distance race this morning. I stayed home to write this article. Our attitudes have certainly been adjusted……
Sherry is one of the TriWivesClub and LifeDoneWell co-founders and contributes to multiple blogs. She is a former co-owner of the California Apparel News and had a career in the healthcare industry. Her passions include traveling, real food, the environment, and animal rescue/welfare. She lives a healthy lifestyle and has been a vegetarian since 1987. She and her husband are parents to two rescue pups and reside in Connecticut.