One of Bridgett Wakefield’s favorite moments as a volunteer for the Christie Clinic Illinois Marathon came when Memorial Stadium was nearly empty. Most of the racers had finished, and race officials were packing up their equipment.
A spectator had been repeatedly asking about her husband, worried that he hadn’t yet finished his race. He finally ran into the stadium, to the cheers of the handful of race volunteers still waiting and the medical tent personnel — and the tears of his wife.
“Everyone came out and was clapping for him,” Wakefield said. “It’s really great seeing people come across the finish line, because it’s a really big accomplishment for them.”
Wakefield has volunteered every year of the marathon. She’s not a runner, but she volunteered the first year after hearing the event would not be able to happen without enough road guards on the course. She’d done a 16-mile walk for breast cancer fundraising the year before, and “I remember all the training I did for that. When I heard if they didn’t have enough volunteers, they would have to cancel, I said, ‘I need to go do this,’” Wakefield said.
She was posted at an intersection toward the end of the race.
“We could hear all the sounds from Memorial Stadium and the cheers as people were finishing,” she said. “Something about that was energizing people. It was pretty cool.”
In the past few years, Wakefield has also helped with set-up on race day, handed out medals to finishers and manned an intersection near her home.
This year, she’s working in the command station that oversees all the course guards, making sure all the intersections are covered on race morning and shifting “floater” volunteers around if someone fails to show up at an intersection. Her husband and children will volunteer as course guards for the intersection near their home.
An architect by trade, Wakefield said the job of organizing others in a high-stress situation suits her.
The event on April 26-27 needs nearly 3,000 volunteers like Wakefield, said Mary Anderson, the event’s volunteer coordinator.
Of those volunteers, 627 people are needed to act as road guards and man the intersections along the race courses, and 100 percent of those volunteer positions must be filled. Those are the volunteers that ensure the safety of the runners on the course.
Anderson believes those positions are also the most fulfilling for volunteers.
“When (volunteers) are out on the course, that support they’re giving (participants) throughout the race, that’s what they remember,” she said. “When they’re at Mile 19 and hitting the wall, they’re going to remember that volunteer that says to them, ‘Keep it up; you’re doing great.’”
There have been a few minor changes in the volunteer positions this year. For example, the 5K course had to be modified because of construction to replace the Memorial Stadium scoreboard. The racers will now enter the stadium from the north, as participants in other races do, rather than under the horseshoe. Because of the course changes, the intersection volunteers had to be moved around.
Those volunteering as part of the course team must attend a training session and get gear and instructions before race day. They show up directly at their designated intersections on race day and check in by cellphone. This year, race volunteers from out of town or who have volunteered in the past can do the mandatory training online.
More organizations or groups are volunteering year after year for particular areas. For example, the Junior League of Champaign-Urbana is overseeing the pasta feed, Christie Clinic is providing all the finish line volunteers and the Kennekuk Road Runners man one of the water stops on the course each year.
“What it does for us is, when they come back and do that year after year, they become experts,” Anderson said.
As of Monday, the race needed 292 more people to fill the course team jobs and 229 volunteers for non-course positions.
Volunteer training begins April 7, and Anderson would like to have the positions filled by the end of this month so those volunteers who need to attend a training session can be notified.
“There were some really fun things about every single part” of volunteering, Wakefield said.
How to help
Anyone interested in volunteering for the Christie Clinic Illinois Marathon on April 26-27 can visit www.illinoismarathon.com and click on the “Volunteer” tab at the top of the page. There is an FAQ section for those with questions about volunteering for the event.
Photo: Bridgett Wakefield with her volunteer t-shirts from previous Christie Clinic Illinois Marathons at Gorski Reifsteck Associates where she works in Champaign. Photo by John Dixon/The News-Gazette