Volunteers are what make a race actually run. Disney’s VoluntEARs take it to a whole different level! They get up even earlier (hard to believe!) than the runners and are often time on their feet for much longer. I’ve you’ve read this blog for a while, you know that I LOVE the VoluntEARs and owe many of my race finishes to them. The positivity, enthusiasm and encouragement mean so much to all of us runners. This year, Amy VoluntEARed during the Walt Disney World Marathon and had the coveted job of giving out medals. Here is her behind the scenes story…super cool!
There they are. At the end of the course. Those big, beautiful, shiny medals. You earned one! But, did you ever wonder how they get there? Well, I like to say that it’s a pinch of Disney Magic and a handful of Volunteer Magic! Here’s what we VoluntEARS do before you are even awake!
Before you can go volunteer at the Marathon, you have to pick up your credentials at the Expo. You check in with a volunteer, sign waivers and are given your credentials, a bag, a lanyard and a letter that you exchange for a free park ticket at the end of your shift.
On the night of our shift, we arrived at Blizzard Beach around 1:45 am for a 2:00 am shift. After parking, we threw on a bunch of layers (it was COLD!), got our bags checked by Security and headed in to the tent.
First, you check in at the computer, where your badge is scanned. Then, you are given a windbreaker. After that, you are given a large Ziploc bag and are able to choose your snacks. I chose Lay’s, Oreos, cheese crackers, Nutri-Grain bar, an Uncrustable and a bottle of water.
Once we finished these tasks, we went out the back and put on our jackets and took a moment to rearrange our bags.
If you need a pottie, there are ones here for you to use.
Next, we found our bus – our credentials said we needed Bus #1 – 7. We ended up on Bus #2, a nice charter bus. When the bus was full, we began our journey to the Finish Line. Our bus actually crossed over the overpass under which the corrals are located, and followed the route (backwards) that runners use to get to the corrals.
We were dropped off behind Gear Check at the pre-run staging area and disembarked. We were led to a large tent that had hot chocolate and coffee! Since I couldn’t feel my feet, the hot chocolate was a very welcome perk (one that not all volunteers get!)
All the Medal volunteers met near the Simba Flag (as instructed on our badges). Our Team Leader, Patrick, had us gather round so that he could introduce himself. He had his “Senior VP of Illuminations” – some guy with a light stick – walk us to the Medal Area at the finish line.
While we were walking, Patrick grabbed my Hubby, dubbed him “Senior VP of Accounting”, and asked him to do a headcount when we got to the Medals Area (right next to the Med Tent). I could tell already that this Team Leader was gonna be a good one.
Once at the Medals Area, “Senior VP of Accounting” turned in his head count and we gathered around again. Patrick had a bullhorn, which was so great – some team leaders are very quiet! A runDisney staff member (I’m gonna call him Tom since I never got his name) stopped by and explained the RIGHT way to unbox medals. (We did medals at Tower of Terror, and it was CRAZY-HORRIBLE how people did them).
Each box had 3 bundles of 25 medals zip-tied together. We were supposed to take out one bundle, find the center (where all the lanyards were connected), then, standing over a trash can, take all the plastic wrappers off of the medals. Once the plastic was off, we would walk over to the medal stand and place the entire bundle onto a peg without removing the zip-tie. If you did it right, the medals would all be pointing the same way and look show-ready. If you did it wrong, the medals would be a mess and you’d have to go back and straighten out the entire pile. Most people did it right, so there wasn’t a lot of fixing to do.
After they were hung, the “Senior VP of Scissors” – me – came around and cut off the zip-ties. I actually just handed out scissors to anyone who asked for a pair, so half the group hung while the other half cut. We started hanging around 2:45 and we were totally done by 3:45. We had a really bad-ass group of voluntEARs this time! Oh, a little math on those medal racks – 12 medal racks. 6 rows per rack. 10 pegs per row. 25 medals per peg. EIGHTEEN THOUSAND medals were hung up. In an hour.
After breaking down the empty boxes that we’d used, we were given a 15-minute break. A small group of people were sent to the Bonus Tent to hang up Goofy and Dopey medals. I used the break to hit the pottie behind the Med Tent and discovered something I never knew about Disney’s potties – there is a coat hook on the door! Way up at the top, there is a little metal hook – who knew?
Anyway, when I was done, I went back to the Medals area, where everyone was standing around, drinking coffee or snacking. At this point, there was LITERALLY nothing to do. Tom came back and said that he was genuinely shocked at how quickly we put everything up. We all kind of just stood around and chit-chatted. The DJ at the pre-race area was pumping out music. People were really starting to fill up the Race Retreat (the smell of bacon was infuriatingly delicious!)
Lots of the other volunteers were huddled at the fence between Medals and the Med Tent – some of them even curled up on the cold pavement and fell asleep.
Some of the volunteers spent extra time perfecting how the medals were hung – especially the front of the rack, the part the runners see when they come in. I ‘borrowed’ the relative warmth of the med tent to add a layer – adding a fleece quarter-zip brought me up to FIVE layers. I was still cold. Luckily, when I had unrolled the fleece top, the hand warmers and gloves that I tucked in to the fleece fell out – I’d completely forgotten about them! It helped a little, but not a whole lot.
At 5:30ish, you could hear the announcers at the start line start to announce corrals. The energy was high and it was great to hear all the corrals go off.
The Kiddo and I (like many other voluntEARs) borrowed wheelchairs from the med tent to sit in, and soon she was zooming around having wheelchair races with some other voluntEARs.
Tom, Patrick, Hubby and I were gathered around, trying to keep track of which corral had just left when Tom showed me something really cool regarding the fireworks they shoot off at each ‘start’. Most runners (even I) never look behind them, but there is a large firework that goes off BEHIND the final corral, as well as the fireworks that shoot off at and near the start line. You can see in the photo how much space there is between the front and the back!
After the final corral (P) had taken off, I made my prediction (I do this at every race) that the first finisher would come in around 2:20.
Now the DJ is playing at the Finish Line, trying to ramp up the handful of people that had already made their way to the bleachers. I had to give him credit – he did the DJ Thing of turning down the music and getting the crowd to sing, but no one in the crowd was warm enough to sing back (at least, that’s how it seemed from our end). It was like “I throw my hands up in the air sometimes, singing….. “ It was kind of funny.
This cool horse-trailer pulled up soon after that, and we joked that the finisher would ride out on a horse, but a while later the top opened and a Jumbo-Tron popped out! Oh, man I need one of those for my backyard!
When we heard that the wheelchair racers were about 5 miles away, 12 of us were lined up in a V-formation, each with a few medals. Our shift was almost over, but we would be able to give out a few at least.
I was able to give a medal to the 2nd place Wheelchair finisher, David, bib# 20001. The Kiddo gave a medal to one of the Wheelchair finishers, but further down the chute, he actually gave it back to one of the other voluntEARs because he’d already been given one closer to the finish line.
The first runner, Fredison Costa, finished in 2:18:06 – I was REALLY close with my guess! The second and third place finishers came in within 5 minutes of the winner, so it was a pretty close race.
Sadly, at this point, it was time for a shift change, so we passed our medals off to the new voluntEARs, gathered our bags and got in line for Patrick to sign off on our badges. If your Team Leader doesn’t sign off on your badge (which is proof that you worked), you don’t get a ticket back at the voluntEAR tent.
We hiked back to the bus and collapsed – we were so tired! It took a while for the bus to get out of the area, due to lots of other buses coming IN to the area. We drove out past the Center for Living Well Family Pharmacy and what looked to be a Cast Member entrance to Epcot.
Back at the Volunteer Tent, we checked in again with our badge and traded in our letter (that we got on Saturday at the Expo) for a FREE One Day, One Park pass. For the first time, it has blockout dates – we’ll be unable to use it from Christmas Day to New Year’s Eve.
After leaving, we were headed towards WaWa for some breakfast, and we encountered the runners on Osceola Parkway! We all rolled down our windows and stuck our hands out and waved and cheered them all on! It was great to see all these guys still looking strong with almost 10 more miles to go!
Once we finished at WaWa, we went BACK to OP just so we could cheer on runners some more, at least until we had to exit at Western Way and go home.
I hope you guys enjoyed a Day in the Life of a VoluntEAR! We’ve been doing it now for more than a year and I LOVE doing it – I look forward to doing many more!
Amy Weber began running in 2012 after deciding to make a lot of changes in her life. She’s done 4 half marathons, four 10ks, one 15k and too many 5ks to count! Upcoming races include Celebration ½ Marathon, Gasparilla Weekend and the Gate River Run. She’s married and has one daughter and works for the government, so running is her Me Time. You can find lots of race reports and Disney stuff on her blog TheLazyLady.Blogspot.com!