Ironman 2014 is where I fell in love with the city of Madison, and now one year later it was crazy to think, I live here. All summer long, I looked forward to Ironman 2015. No, I am not an athlete participating, I am a cheerleader and volunteer. It takes 3,700 volunteers to support the almost 3,000 athletes who have spent the last year training for one goal – to cross the finish line and hear their name “You are an Ironman”.
The swim wave goes off at 7am, so at 6:15am, I pedal my cruiser down the Capital City Trail to the swim start near the Monona Terrace. It was a perfect day for Ironman. The water was calm, the sunrise was beautiful, and by the excitement and energy of the crowd, it was hard to believe it was only 6:30am.
7:00am the horn sounded and off they go to swim 2.4 miles. I had a few friends from Green Bay participating again this year, so I met their support crew on the helix to wait and watch. This is probably one of my favorite spectating spots. The crowds are crazy loud – a mixture of cowbells, air horns and mega phones. Most of the athletes at this point are smiling as they are running up the helix because they made it — one down, bike and run to go.
As a spectator and volunteer, you must also pace yourself. The cut off time is midnight for the athletes and I planned to be their to cheer on the last person crossing the finish line. My friend, Toni and I took a pit stop to The Old Fashioned. After a good carbo load of eggs, potatoes and bloody marys, we where ready to cheer on the lead athletes as they made their way back from the 112 mile bike course and start the 26.2 mile run.
Toni and I for two hours cheered on all the athletes as they came through the run out. At 2:00pm, it was my turn to perform. I was volunteering at the aid station on State and Lake Street. The city streets now a criss cross of runners as the looped around the city of Madison. As I got to my aid station, I was seeing some of the runners I saw as they where just starting the run. My station was mile 6.5 and the athletes also passed again at mile 20.
We had two stations on each side of the road handing out first water, then Gatorade, ice chips, coke and sponges. At first when you get there the station is a little crazy, but then you find your role and begin. I was handing out water on the second loop, so after they passed me they had 6.2 to go to the Capitol. You start to recognize these faces and outfits – Guy with pink tutu, fireman running in his gear and tank, friends with double dare t-shirts, a visually impaired women tethered to her running guide and I hoped I could see them at the finish and fulfill their dream of becoming an Ironman.
I had completed my volunteer role at 7:00 pm and now I was headed to the finish line and meet back up with my friend Toni. We stood and watched the runners go by – one side of the street they had 1/2 a mile to complete their Ironman journey – the other side they still had a 1/2 marathon to go.
One by one, I saw my friends getting close to their dream – Cooch, Andy and Mike cheering them on for that last 1/2 mile. Toni and I then moved to the finish line. It was after 9pm but the bleachers and crowds surrounding the finish chute was incredible. We squeezed our way onto the bleachers and there we stood and cheered for the next three hours. The best part of the Ironman was the last half hour. A second announcer goes down in the finish shoot and as the athletes cross they get the crowd into cheering for each one — “You Are an Ironman”. It was incredible to again see those faces I have become so familiar with cross that line – the pink tutu, the friends going across holding hands, the visually impaired runner and with 13 minutes to spare Fireman Rob.
I have never witnessed an event that is so filled with emotion and that is why I love being a part of this event and many other endurance events – true test of the human spirit at its finest! The reaction and emotion on the athletes face as they cross that line also brought tears to my eyes. As I watched I also thought why can’t we support everyone in life the way myself and these crowds are supporting each of these athletes? Think how different our world would be.