“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’” – Martin Luther King, Jr.
Each year, thousands upon thousands of volunteers answer this question by dedicating their time and talents to assisting Bank of America Chicago Marathon participants.
After all, the volunteer opportunities are virtually limitless, as they’re increasing on an annual basis—up to more than 12,000 this year.
Opportunities are quite wide ranging too. Some volunteers choose to prepare participant packets (at the Mercy Home for Girls & Boys from September 20 to 22), while others hand out t-shirts and packets to participants, answer any questions they may have and assist international participants at the Abbott Health & Fitness Expo (at McCormick Place on October 11 and 12).
Others, meanwhile, prefer to volunteer at the Chicago Marathon itself (occurring this year on October 13), as they serve on information teams throughout Grant Park, primarily offering general information and directions to participants, spectators and other volunteers. In addition, some volunteers work as course marshals, mainly ensuring the marathon’s course remains free of spectator and vehicle traffic.
Some choose to oversee start and finish line corrals – particularly by regulating access to the corrals and assisting participants as they progress through them – and attend the Biofreeze 27th Mile Post-Race Party, where they congratulate marathon participants.
Aside from these individual opportunities, volunteers can also participate in group opportunities, often serving as group leaders who recruit or organize a group of volunteers. Some people may also choose to serve as key volunteers (who are trained to supervise volunteers), while others work at aid stations. In fact, roughly half of all volunteers currently serve at aid stations, which are only reserved for groups.
Clearly, the options are endless, and there are still opportunities available for the 2019 event; all individual volunteers must register online by Friday, October 4 at 11:59 p.m. CT. To register, prospective volunteers should visit www.chicagomarathon.com/volunteer.
As they prepare for their roles, volunteers must remember that they’ll be standing for at least four hours for most positions. They should also be prepared for nearly any type of weather condition, as Chicago’s fall weather is notoriously unpredictable.
Volunteers must also be respectful and have a positive attitude as they interact with participants, as they’re representing the Chicago Marathon—a critical point that they must remember throughout their shifts.
Although volunteers offer their assistance for various reasons—service hours, merchandise, giving back to the sport and so forth—they’re all doing something that’s greater than themselves, a key motivator for every volunteer.
Something Greater than Themselves
With this goal in mind, Kelly Devine Rickert has served as an aid station captain in Chinatown since 2018, a role that requires regular communication with key volunteers, as well as group leaders that are volunteering at her site.
“This role is a lot different than the other volunteering roles I’ve had at the Chicago Marathon since I was in high school,” she says. “There’s much more responsibility, as I’m in charge of the entire site.”
She adds, “I also want to remain respectful of Chinatown, its rich history with the Chicago Marathon and all the great community members who volunteer at the site year after year.”
John Mikulski, like Devine Rickert, has also had a variety of volunteer roles at the Chicago Marathon, particularly since his wife, Maureen, began participating in the late 1990s. Looking to fill his idle time before the race began, he decided to start volunteering, ultimately serving at start corrals, the Abbott Health & Fitness Expo and aid stations, in addition to becoming a key volunteer.
In 2014, he and Maureen established Jim’s Bridge to a Bright Future, a 501(c)(3) charitable organization that honors their son’s legacy by helping less fortunate Chicago area children through sponsored activities and fundraisers that promote service, wellness and the opportunity to support school-aged children’s educations.
“Our volunteers are part of the information teams that answer questions from runners and spectators,” he states. “So our ideal volunteer is one who has run marathons and attended them as a spectator, while also knowing a lot about Chicago.”
In 2002, Dave Harrington began volunteering at Aid Station 7, located on Clark Street between Belden and Webster, an opportunity he has pursued regularly ever since. A former Chicago Marathon participant himself, he wanted to offer other marathon participants the same encouragement and support he had received from volunteers.
“When you volunteer, you benefit as much as the people you’re helping,” he stresses. “After cheering and supporting someone trying to complete the Chicago Marathon and then receiving gratitude from them, it is definitely worth getting up at 4 in the morning.”
Ruthie Maldonado-Delwiche, a charity runner and general volunteer who recently became a key volunteer, hasn’t been volunteering at the Chicago Marathon nearly as long as Harrington (she volunteered at Abbott Health & Fitness Expo for six years, prior to becoming a race day volunteer). Yet, she’s already witnessed an immeasurable amount of joy from her volunteer experiences.
“I’ve volunteered on race day two years in a row, an experience unlike any other,” she says. “To see so many people from so many places coming together to run 26.2 miles has been remarkable. I was truly on cloud nine, as I couldn’t stop smiling.”
Eraj Shah, a current group leader for UIC Alpha Phi Omega, a service fraternity that provides volunteers for the Abbott Health & Fitness Expo, as well as the Chicago Marathon, agrees with Maldonado-Delwiche, adding that the enjoyment of volunteering has motivated her to serve since 2015.
“One of our mottos in APO is ‘Be a leader, be a friend and be of service,’ and, as a group leader, that stands well with what I’m doing,” she states. “The atmosphere that the marathon generates is so welcoming and uplifting. I believe we’ll keep coming back for years to come.”
Preparing for the Big Day
As people prepare to volunteer for the Bank of America Chicago Marathon, Maldonado-Delwiche advises them to wear comfortable clothes and shoes and, most importantly, come to have fun and make memories.
“Whether you’re distributing race packets or shirts, or helping a sponsor, just smile and know that the runners do appreciate you for being there,” she says. “If you’re working on race day, come prepared to be excited. The energy of the runners is contagious!”
Devine Rickert agrees that energy is a key component of the Chicago Marathon, as it’s also a necessity for the volunteers.
“It’s a long day, and we expect volunteers to be on time and fulfill the entire time commitment,” she explains. “I also encourage everybody to bring their loud voices! They need to clap and cheer like crazy to keep runners uplifted to reach the end of the race. Nothing beats an energetic crowd to lift you up!”
In addition to maintaining a high level of energy, volunteers should expect a variety of health benefits to arise, as a result of their service. For example, Mikulski cites an article from the Harvard Women’s Health Watch, which found that volunteers feel more socially connected, have lower blood pressure and a longer lifespan.
They’ll also have a better understanding of what occurs behind the scenes of the marathon itself, more appreciation for all the volunteers that ensure it’s a success and, in turn, a desire to volunteer yet again and notice the mental and physical health benefits of running firsthand.
“Every runner should volunteer at the Chicago Marathon. They’ll have more appreciation for what goes into the race, as well as the volunteers that cheer them on,” Devine Rickert states. “It’s truly an amazing, uplifting and inspiring day.”
Maldonado-Delwiche believes the power of giving back shouldn’t be overlooked either.
“Volunteering truly makes you feel good inside. When I am tired or feeling a bit down, I’ll find somewhere to volunteer and it amazingly makes me feel better,” she says. “Giving back is powerful.”
With regards to the power of giving back, Shah thinks the overall impact that volunteering has—on the people that volunteers assist, as well as the volunteers themselves—is its most important, endearing component.
“Everything that volunteers do have an impact in some way,” she stresses. “Volunteering also has an impact on volunteers, as it gives them ambition to become a better person.”
As volunteers look ahead to the Chicago Marathon, whether it’s their first experience as a volunteer or their 20th, Shah adds that they must stay motivated in the days and weeks prior to race day. She also believes that they should push themselves to leave their comfort zones behind, as they participate in different aspects of servitude they may have never experienced before. Connections with other volunteers—before and during the Chicago Marathon—will also help improve volunteers’ experiences, according to Shah.
Furthermore, Devine Rickert advises volunteers to focus on the obvious: get plenty of sleep ahead of time and bring sunscreen, rain gear, cash and snacks. If volunteers follow this advice, they will be well prepared for a successful day, one that helps ensure marathoners perform to the best of their abilities.
“Simply put, be prepared to have fun and meet some wonderful people,” Maldonado-Delwiche adds. “You’ll easily be hooked and looking forward to the next opportunity to volunteer, hopefully as soon as possible!”