Monday, September 9, 2013

Day 120 - Attending a Volunteer Appreciation Dinner

I have never attended a volunteer appreciation dinner. While this may seem like a “gimme” “I have never...” event at first glance, the fact that I have been unable to attend any volunteer appreciation event, including those in my “I have never...” year, after volunteering made me think it was time to gain the experience for the first time. After all, the idea of taking  time to relax and have some fun with my fellow volunteers were definitely things that appealed to me, and yesterday’s volunteer experience at Ironman gave me more than enough reasons celebrate our contributions. As a result, Rachael and I decided we would set aside time this evening to attend the Ironman Volunteer Appreciation event at the Monona Terrace this evening to help me gain my first experience with a volunteer appreciation event.

The banquet hall
After wrapping up my workday I immediately drove home and picked up Rachael for the event. Together, we made our way down to the Monona Terrace and found our way into the Ironman Volunteer Appreciation Dinner. The event was easy to find considering the over 4,000 volunteers that helped make the Ironman event possible. While not all of the volunteers were in attendance for the event, the banquet hall was bustling with the activity of hundreds of people as we entered the space. In response to the sight before us, Rachael and I paused for a brief moment just beyond the banquet halls doors to take in our surroundings. A video screen and stage sat before dozens of large round tables scattered across the beautiful room serving as the backdrop for the event. Throughout the room our fellow volunteers filled the room, with those in the crowd enjoying a meal, enjoying one another’s company, and relaxing with some drinks. From the moment walking into the room the energy and high spirits of the crowd were apparent. A smile crossed my face as a single thought popped into my head, “We’re among good people...”

Rachael and I were quick to track down some food after we set our feet back into motion across the remaining portion of the banquet hall. At the far end of the room, two tables containing a spread of Mexican cuisine sat waiting for us. Fortunately, we arrived after the first big rush of volunteers looking to put together a meal, which made our effort to put together a plate easy and convenient. With our food in hand, Rachael and I crossed toward the middle of the hall in search of some empty chairs at one of the many tables in the hall. At first the task appeared rather daunting. The volunteers in attendance had all but occupied every chair at every table, which sent Rachael and I toward the back of the room in our continued search. Luckily, we happened upon two of our friends, Patrick and Keith, who happened to be saving two empty seats at their table. While we were completely unaware they had volunteered for the Ironman event, the coincidence of their presence and the random act of saving two empty seats worked out perfectly. Equally surprised to see us, Patrick and Keith were quick to offer the empty seats at their table to us, which Rachael and I happily accepted.

The first place finishers!
As Rachael and I nibbled away at our meals we caught up with Patrick and Keith, talked a bit about the Ironman event, and listened to the male and female first place finishers (a husband and wife!) give a brief speech from the stage at the front of the room. Their comments on the race and sincere thanks were met with cheers and applause from the audience of volunteers, who obviously experienced the same feelings of respect and inspiration I felt in response to their words. With the speeches complete, a local radio disc jockey took the stage and introduced some members of the Ironman event team, who also offered their sincere thanks and provide some background information that demonstrated the 2013 Ironman race was one of the most successful events to date. Their words evoked the same sense of pride in me that had surfaced during my volunteer effort yesterday. Although I was only one person in a massive machine of planning, volunteers, and participants, their words made me feel I was an important part of the event. Their message was personal and authentic, and it made me happy I had been a part of the event. Eventually, their speeches concluded with a brief awards ceremony for the best volunteer team leaders and aid stations during the Ironman race. Among the winners was the aid station Rachael and I had volunteered at yesterday, aid station number four, which won the award for the cleanest aid station in the race (not to brag or anything).

The video recap
Following the speeches and award ceremonies, a door prize raffle commenced. Dozens of attendees won prizes from local businesses and from the Ironman organization, which served as one more obvious “thank you” from the Ironman man team to all of the volunteers that assisted with the triathlon. In addition, a video of the 2013 Ironman race was played on the massive screen at the front of the room shortly after prizes were handed out, which put the uniform efforts of the entire volunteer team in perspective and made me realize the scope of the event Rachael and I had helped make possible. It was a moving moment that reflected on some amazing people and athletes that contributed to the 12th annual Ironman Madison event. At the end of the presentation I sat in awe of the story to which Rachael and I contributed. The only thing I could think was that our efforts paled in comparison to the drive, commitment, and resolve demonstrated by the Ironman planners, organizers, and participants. They are people everyone should look up to and aspire to be like... Period.

My lovely lady and I working the photobooth
Eventually, the night drew to a close with a final round of door prize raffles and a free for all swag handout from the stage. Rachael and I said our goodbyes to Patrick and Keith before we made a quick pit stop in the Ironman photo booth on our way out of the building. With that, my first full experience with the Ironman event came to a conclusion. As I write this blog entry I have the picture of Rachael and I in the photo booth resting before me, and I can’t help but feel that moment will resonate for some time. I know every time I look at that photo I will be reminded of my first experience volunteering at Ironman, of the inspired and accomplished feelings that came with that experience, and of the complete happiness I felt when the photo was taken. Although it may still be the rush of the whole experience running through me, right now I can only say Ironman has me hooked. Stated plainly, next year can’t come soon enough.

1 comment:

  1. This isn't only a good place. It is also one of the best around here. There isn't a listing of the unique offerings, although there should be! This place was magnificent!
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