Thousands of volunteers braved rocking surf and stifling heat Saturday, donning Kokua Crew shirts and helping the roughly 1,900 Ironman triathletes move from start to finish.
Jahna Beard, visiting from Southern California to cheer on her boyfriend in the race, said her experiences as an athlete have shown her how important race volunteers are. Beard, who was standing alongside Kuakini Highway at about 9 a.m. while waiting for Mark Rinaldi to ride by, was assigned to help hand out medals later in the day.
Volunteering is fun, she said, because it’s “helping people acheive their goal. It’s fun to give back. The races don’t happen without the volunteers.”
Cheering with her was Rinaldi’s good friend, Gary McMurtrey. Together, the two direct an Xterra series off-road triathlon.
“You get to meet people from all over the world,” McMurtrey said. “For lots of people, this is the biggest day in their sporting life.”
This year is McMurtrey’s third year to Kona for the Ironman world championship. He’s been to other big races, but none like the one here, he said.
“This is the Super Bowl of triathlon,” he said. “Nothing compares.”
The race is so big for their triathlon club in California that they have a viewing party for the race, too, he said.
Ironman officials estimate about 5,000 volunteers, many from Hawaii Island and lots from around the world, will pitch in during race week. Volunteers were in Kailua-Kona in the wee hours Saturday morning, long before sunrise, marking athletes with their race numbers and checking in race gear.
Vanessa Farmer, a Portland, Ore., native who is attending classes at the University of the Nations, said she was in town at 4 a.m. to get ready for her job as a course guide, keeping spectators out of the way of bicyclists as they headed south on Kuakini Highway.
“I love it,” Farmer said, sporting a bright orange T-shirt. “It’s really good to serve others. I love serving.”
This is the first triathlon she’s ever attended, she added.
Visiting from Oahu, friends Jen Noonkester and Dorothy May have volunteered, and raced, in triathlons before.
“Since we’re racers, it’s kind of like, pay it back,” Noonkester said, as she waited for the race start from the seawall fronting the Kona Inn Shopping Village.
May, who attempted a half Ironman on the Big Island, but missed the bicycle cut off, said volunteering gets her into the action.
“I’m never going to be good enough to race in this race,” she said. “It’s a long shot for me. It’s my way to get involved.”
Noonkester said she has some athletes she wants to cheer on.
“I’ve got my favorites I want to see race,” she said, adding she also wants to “watch for the last guy, make sure he comes across the line.”