"It's the Best Seat in the House": NYRR's Loyal Volunteers Tell Us Why They Keep Coming Back


In honor of New York Road Runners' Volunteer Appreciation Month, we asked several loyal NYRR volunteers why they return to their posts at the TCS New York City Marathon year after year. Some are from local running clubs, area universities, or religious groups. Others found themselves united by the marathon itself, coming together at the same spot to hand out refreshments to runners and to offer support. They work at the start line and the finish line, in the exciting early miles of Brooklyn and the punishing hill up Fifth Avenue near the end. The marathon would not be the same without them, and neither would NYRR. 

Riri Nagao and Noel Slater, Dashing Whippets Running Team

Who they are: Nagao and Slater, members of the New York-based Dashing Whippets Running Team, have built up a volunteer squad, pictured above, comprised of their teammates for the TCS New York City Marathon.

Where you will find them on marathon day: Mile 22. “As runners, we know how tough that part is,” said Nagao.

Why they volunteer: “We started building volunteer teams on the Dashing Whippets as a way for off-season athletes to continue to be as involved in the races as our runners,” said Nagao. “We love giving back to the NYC running community that has given us so much.”

“Seeing a familiar face toward the end of a difficult marathon can really help a runner,” said Slater.

What is a story from your experience that reinforces the importance of your work? Nagao loves greetings from friends on other running teams. “We’ve got a colorful landscape of running teams in this city, and it’s fun to acknowledge one another,” he said.

“I’ve experienced my fair share of unexpected hugs,” said Slater. “People are so excited to finish a big race that sometimes they have to share it with one of the volunteers.” He once helped an older man to an empty tent after a rainy race so he could clean up before meeting his family. Slater called the man’s relatives and arranged for someone to pick him up. “On the way out, he shook my hand and told me that we should charge for this quality of service.”

What would you tell people wondering why they should volunteer at the TCS New York City Marathon?

“It’s the best seat in the house!” said Nagao. “Whether you’re cheering for the champion or your friends and family, you’ve got a front-row seat a the race. Marathon Sunday is exhilarating and I wouldn’t miss it for the world.”

Adam Chang, Princeton University

Who he is: Chang is a senior at Princeton with three years of marathon volunteering under his belt.

Where you will find him on marathon day: In the start corrals. “It's so crazily energetic! Plus, it gives us the chance to use our language skills, and we get to come up with creative solutions for runners' last-minute problems.”

Why he volunteers: “The energy and diversity of the runners! I run myself, and even local races are unforgettable events for me. I can only imagine how much the marathon means to runners flying in from halfway around the world!”

What is a story that reinforces the importance of your work?  “Mid-race and finish-line shout-outs are always the best! Even better if they’re wearing the NYRR volunteer shirt.”

Aurora Morales Gil, Greater New York Adventist Youth, Seventh-Day Adventist Church

Who she is: Morales Gil is a 12-year veteran of her group’s marathon volunteer efforts. Greater New York Adventist Youth is on NYRR’s Volunteer Wall of Honor [LINK] with over 1,000 hours of service logged to date.

Where you will find her on marathon day: The Adventist Youth group works the start and finish lines and at fluid stations at Miles 14 and 15. Gil likes working in the start village. “My favorite spot is at the volunteer check-in, first shift, because it gives me time to go and thank the Adventist Youth volunteers and encourage my runner friends.”

Why she volunteers: “The positive impact of volunteering with kindness and compassion is greater than one can think and goes beyond our city and returns to us.”

What is a story from your experience that reinforces the importance of your work?  “An athlete with disabilities arrived at the start and was nervous not knowing how to get to his village. We told him not to worry and guided him to his village. He said it was his first marathon and he would always remember us. This made me feel great about assisting runners at the start.”

What would you tell people wondering why they should volunteer at the TCS New York City Marathon? “The thrill of contagious energy and the positive atmosphere that come with this tremendous event. All the components come in harmony as in an orchestra and play the great symphony named the marathon.”

Michelle Randall-Williams and Linda Bryant, Co-Captains, Mile 8 fluid station

Who they are: These sisters (Michelle is pictured above at left; Linda is at center and their sister Tira at right) have worked at the same station on the marathon course for over 40 years. A sister had a friend who worked for the city who got them started in 1978. “The sister who got us started passed away but we’re still carrying this legacy,” Bryant said.

Where you will find them on marathon day: The women run the fluid station on Fourth Avenue between Dean and Pacific streets in Brooklyn, just before the Mile 8 marker.

“My responsibilities are not limited to just fluid distribution, but also entail safety measures, effective communication, and planning with the New York City Police Department to keep the public, volunteers, and runners safe, satisfied, and encouraged,” said Randall-Williams.

“We call this a family affair,” said Bryant, pictured below with her young daughter in a photo taken 30 years ago at Mile 8. “I didn’t have children when we started. We’ve worked through pregnancies, babies; I remember bringing my two girls in a stroller. We have gained and lost family members. We have made close friends of people who are now considered family members.”

Why they volunteer: “It’s about the thrill of community,” said Randall-Williams.

“The excitement of being part of something that people know of around the world,” said Bryant. “We’re making history every year.”

What is a story from your experience that reinforces the importance of your work?  “One of the runners from France with his flag wrapped around his shoulders stopped to ask me to dance with him because he said the music was so great and it motivated him to keep going,” said Randall-Williams.

“We had someone come by leading someone who was blind, made sure they got a drink, and they couldn’t thank us enough,” Bryant said.

What would you tell people wondering why they should volunteer at the TCS New York City Marathon? “The gathering of people of all backgrounds coming together for one of the most exciting days of the year, filled with kindness, fellowship, order, love and community in New York,” said Randall-Williams.

“It’s contagious,” said Bryant. “When the cops go by and those motorcycles rev up, and then here come the runners, just waves and waves of people running, your heart starts pounding.”

Author: Lela Moore

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