Volunteering at the 2018 Boston Marathon

I want to tell you about one of the most touching experiences I’ve ever had. But first, a bit of back-story.

The past few months for me were full of ups and downs on the personal front, which completely drained my “emotional fuel tank.” So, I decided to do something about it and volunteered for the 2018 Boston Marathon as a radio communications (ham) volunteer. I spent weeks reading the documentation, programming frequencies and preparing my equipment. Finally, I packed up my gear Monday morning and headed out to my briefing.

8:00 AM, Marathon Monday, I’m staring into the rain.

I was stationed at a medical tent, about 18 miles down the course. The weather was brutal by any account. 30+ MPH winds, constant downpour and upper 30-degree temperatures made conditions difficult as the ground beneath us turned to muck. The team captain asked a neighboring resident for a shovel and one of the medical staff began to dig a trench to move the water away from the cots. We used many of the ice bags on hand to weigh down the tents further to keep them from blowing away. Let’s be honest, we weren’t going to need to treat anyone that day for heat exhaustion in the ice-baths. We filled a cooler with hot water, boiled one kettle at a time, to keep the hot bags ready for runners.

My job was to make sure the medical tent had supplies, transportation, ambulances and most importantly: INFORMATION. I worked directly with the station captain and also with his team of a dozen trained medical staff while we provided medical attention to over 140 runners (at our station alone!). It was the most intense environment I’ve been in as a radio operator and staying calm as the communications liaison was difficult. 12 hours and 30,000 runners later, we packed up our gear and send the last runner on a transport bus toward the finish line. I slept hard that night.

This morning, April 17, I put on my red-orange volunteer jacket and went out to get some breakfast. Walking down the street, I saw five runners from Japan wearing their jackets as well (different colors signify different roles). They came up to me and asked in their best English: “Volunteer?” To which I replied, “Yes. Radio. Medical Tent.” They each bowed as one runner said: “Thank you so much for your service.”

I didn’t know what to say. These people had spent hours running in the worst that New England has to offer and the first thing they did was thank ME! I quickly blurted out “Thank you!” Then the reality of volunteering at the Boston Marathon hit me like a pile of bricks: I am actually truly thankful to the runners. These people run in abysmal conditions, suffer unimaginable pain and STILL have the heart to remember to thank their fellow human.

The ups and downs of these past few months have been trying. Sometimes, it seems like there is no end in sight. But I realize now as I look back on the faces of the runners coming up to heartbreak hill that there is no such thing as a worthy challenge that is easily completed. The race of life is much the same; uphills and downhills, good weather and bad, sometimes we need to take a break along the way. These brave souls that ran yesterday showed me hope in a time when I needed it most.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a course I have to get back on.