Ironman Arizona 2017 Race Recap - Part 5 - Guest post by volunteer Sharon

If you want to catch up on what happens before T2...

Note from Michelle:  I invited Sharon, my amazing Fairy Godmother volunteer who treated me to massage, ART and help in T2 to do this guest blog after she suggested she could share her perspective of things from inside T2.  Welcome and thank you Sharon.  Take it away Sharon....

This is Sharon, the massage therapist Michelle talked about. She asked me to talk a bit about what happens in transition. 

The reason I am at Ironman competitions is that I am certified in Active Release Technique, a soft tissue management system that releases specific muscular tension, especially in repetitive injury strains. We provide free treatments Thursday, Friday, and Saturday before the race and we are in T2 and finish on race day. 

Amy, (left), Laura (middle), Sharon (right)

I am also an RN, but I work in a birthing center. No chance of an emergency Ironman birth, right? But I am utilized as triage for medical problems, as well as massage for cramps. Red shirts mean medical personnel. Doctors, nurses, chiropractors, and us ART folk. EMTs wear navy blue. I don’t know why.

Arizona is not my home; I live in Michigan. I fly to Arizona for this, staying in a hotel and renting a car. Almost as insane as an Ironman. 

T2 is between the bike and the run. The Pros are fast, in and out in under a minute, sometimes only 45 seconds in the tent. They drop their bags, remove their helmets, put on running shoes, grab a few nutrient packs, make sure their race bib is on facing front, and they are gone. We then handle the bags, returning them to bins to be replaced numerically for easy pick up. They have to run through the tents to cross the next timing device, indicating they are out of transition. 

Gear bag checkout

When they run out, there are people with handfuls of sunscreen. Three or 4 volunteers will converge on an athlete, completely slathering him or her with sunscreen in about 20 seconds. That’s too long for the Pros, and they skip the sunscreen, just running to the next gate and timing device.

Want some sunscreen?

The men start earlier, so we wait for the women. The Pros need little from us, except to handle the bags. But, honestly, we aren’t there for the Pros.

The athletes can change outside behind the tents or inside. There is a men’s and women’s side. The back fence is a place that families can stand to see the athletes. We provide assist with changing clothes, handling bags, provide water, Vaseline to prevent chaffing, opening nutrient packs, collecting trash, and emotional support. And reminding them to take sunglasses and race bibs. We also do some minor medical interventions, like flushing salt and dirt out of eyes. The athletes don’t know right from left by now so we point a lot. They smell pretty bad, too. 

volunteers helping athletes

No food or electrolytes in transition, unless the athletes bring it. There is a nearby small medical tent that has Gatorade and pretzels. Most athletes are well prepared and have those things with them. 

There is a row of portaJohns right behind the tents, in the outside part of T2. Most people make a quick stop, but....when I see people choosing to sit on the ground, I know they are peeing. Yes, really. Sometimes, even on the metal folding chairs, leaving behind puddles of urine. They use mouthwash and spit on the ground. Some puke. It’s delightful. We go through a lot of bleach wipes.

And one vision I will never get out of my head is guys shoving their hands down their pants, to apply Glide all over their privates.  GO IN THE TENT TO DO THAT!!! 

I bring my oldest shoes for race day, and they get thrown away.

Ok, some specifics about this year’s race. One of the volunteers called me to work on a Pro’s cramps. He was standing by the fence, talking to his family. His skin was crusty, and all his muscles were either mushy or vibrating. We sent him to the medical tent, but he did come back later for a massage after several liters of IV fluid. First time I worked on a Pro. 

People I have worked on during the week run through. It’s cool to help them get through transition. Some people need treatments for muscle spasms, so I do that.  Eyes crusted with salt get flushed. The other RN, Laura, and I bully an athlete into letting us flush dirt from one eye which is bright red and barely open. The athletes are all given two red bands to give to volunteers that assist them. He gives one to Laura, but refuses to give one to me, even though his eye is now open and no longer red.  At least he won’t have permanent eye damage. 

I chat with the volunteers I know from years past when we are slow. That doesn’t happen often, but I have made friends with some volunteers. 

Amy - Women's T2 coordinator

One woman needs her medicine that she left on her bike, so I get to run to the opposite side of the bikes to get it because I have a sparkly gold All Access band. Not a lot of those around. Yup, getting my steps today! And red bands. 

Favourite volunteer (red), all access (gold)

One guy is sitting, watching. When asked, he says he is out of the race and just resting. Volunteers have pulled his bags and his race chip. He has never seen T2 this way and is astonished at how hard volunteers work. And how gross some of the athletes are behaving. He says he might volunteer next year.

A woman gets carried into the tent and passes out. We clear a big area, and wait for a cart to take her to the main medical tent. I can feel salts crusted on her skin and her muscles are spasming painfully. She is in and out of consciousness and doesn’t know her name. We know it because it’s printed on their race bibs, just for this reason. People run in, see her, and go to the sides of the tents to transition. 

Some years, there are pretty bad falls. Laura and I have bandaged people and sent them on their way. Our medical care doesn’t disqualify them. By the way, Preparation H wipes are great to clean minor wounds and also get bike grease off hands and clothes. The Things you learn as a volunteer are intriguing. 

We try to help a woman who lost her catheters, can’t pee, and is in agony. She runs out without allowing us to help her. I realize I had knelt in something wet. I try to believe it’s water. 

One woman whose arm has been numb for weeks, but was helped by my ART treatment runs through, hugging me after I help her transition. Yeah, I have a lot of DNA on me by the end of the day. 

Michelle runs through, I help her, and off she goes. Yay!

We keep assisting athletes through, not stopping doing what is needed until it is almost time to close T2. All continuing athletes have to be out and over the next timing device by 5:40. Groups of 3 or 4 of us assist each athlete to get through T2 and over the next timing device in time to continue. The last woman runs out and we cheer! We moved over 2000 people through T2. 

Then there is clean up, and they are done. Not me, because I put my massage table in my car and am off to be a medical catcher at finish. 

Just a bit about finish. Red shirts are right behind the photographers. Most of the athletes run by us. They get their medals, their t shirt and hat, their timing chip is removed, and their pictures taken. Their families are there to cheer them. And there is food. The ones that stumble, we catch before they hit the ground. Some we pass on to the next set of volunteers. Some we have to get to the main medical tent. 

When they cross, they hear their name called with “You are an Ironman,” Many start to cry. Yes, even the men. They say prayers of gratitude. They jump and touch the timer. Some dance. Their clothes have lines from dried sweat and urine but they are soaking wet. Some want to stop, bending over with their hands on their knees. This is a great way to pass out after a race so we stand them up and keep them moving. We definitely wear gloves at finish. 

The woman whose arm I treated sees me at finish and runs right at me. I get a big hug, and move with her through the rest of finish. Then I go back to finish. I see a few others I treated or assisted in T2 at finish. 

I get called to help a finisher. He is leaning over the fence, his head down, puking. A doctor and I try to move him but he pukes on my shoes. Someone is trying to get a wheelchair to us but others keep taking it. When we finally get a wheelchair to us, another finisher sits in it, laughing. Then he sees the man we are trying to help and jumps up, apologizing. We get the athlete into the chair and I go back to finish. 

A man from Michigan crosses, spraying the audience with beer. When I say “go Michigan,” he empties the beer cans on me and tackles me with a huge hug, spinning me around. 

I smell of beer, puke, and finishing triathletes. My back is spasming from that last hug. Michelle will be finishing in about 45 minutes but the beery tackle after being puked on was my finish. I have over 14,000 steps. I have been there since 11am and it’s past 8pm. Not as many steps or as long as an Ironman, but good enough for me. 

My race day is over. I need a shower, some food, and sleep. I leave for Michigan the next day. 

I meet great people at these events. People who overcome adversity of injuries and fears to do this. Volunteers who are my friends. At home, I attend local triathlons to provide pre and post race treatments. 

I will never be a triathlete but I can be support staff. 


RN, Ironman Volunteer

Notes from Michelle:

  • Photos in this post provided by Sharon
  • Thank you for flying in all the way fro Michigan, being there for me and for so many others
  • I had no idea we could change behind the tents.  I thought nudity would get us DQ'd
  • One of the IMAZ FB groups posted that on Thursday at package pickup, athletes were told to help themselves to anything on the table including red bracelets, luggage tags, protein powder and posters so there were not enough for those who came on Friday. 
  • Sorry you had a rough finish to the day.Stay healthy.  I hope you didn't get sick after being exposed to all that DNA.

Ironman Arizona Series:
Ironman Arizona 2017 Race Recap - Part 1 - Getting There
Ironman Arizona 2017 Race Recap - Part 2 - Race Morning and Swim
Ironman Arizona 2017 Race Recap - Part 3 - T1 and Bike
Ironman Arizona 2017 Race Recap - Part 4 - T2 and Run
Ironman Arizona 2017 Race Recap - Part 5 - Guest post by volunteer Sharon
Ironman Arizona 2017 Race Recap - Part 6 - Finish Line & Beyond
Ironman Arizona 2017 Race Recap - Part 7 - Guest post by coach Keith 
Ironman Arizona 2017 Race Recap - Part 8 - IMAZ2017 epic trailer (1 min video)
Ironman Arizona 2017 Race Recap - Part 9 - Ironman Arizona 2017 - Michelle's Day (6 min video)


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