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Photo Credit: Dana Zucker/Triathlon Traveling Mom

My husband decided to do triathlons about eight years ago. I first thought this was going to be a passing fad, but soon realized they were here to stay. Since this was going to be a family affair, we had to find a way to get the kids involved. Volunteering at triathlon races turned out to be the solution.

Volunteering is both a way to give back to triathlon communities and actually have fun in the process. Whether as a family or as a solo supporter, it is a great way to meet people, get involved, and show appreciation to the race site communities, especially when you travel.  To get kids involved is no easy feat, but we managed to find a way.

The Value of Triathlons

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Photo Credit: Courtesy of Ironman XC

My husband and I quickly came to understand the value this sport could have on our health, well-being, the community, and personal experiences  Triathlons are not just “a race”.  We traveled to sites, both for day trips and vacations around the world, realizing what these cities were providing us with and we wanted to show our appreciation.  Even at our local races here in Austin, we knew we could do more.

We surmised that if our kids were involved and kept busy, they wouldn’t have time to stand around being bored and might even come to enjoy the experience.  We started at a local race as a family a week before the event, stuffing the swag bags.  We had a great night and met a great group of people.  The volunteer coordinator asked the kids if they would like to help race morning, directing athletes from body marking to T1.  Much to my surprise, they actually said yes!

For their efforts, they were given free breakfast tacos, a cool t-shirt, and glow sticks to direct people with and seemed to actually be pleased.  Happy triathletes said thank you and gave them high fives, making the kids feel a part of it all.  They ended up helping out at the finish line and by this point, they were hooked, happy, active, and saw their tridad a lot.  At the end of the race, this time it was not me and the kids waiting for our athlete to finish, but me and the athlete waiting for our pre-teens to come out of the volunteer tent with their pizza.

Tips for Getting Your Kids to Volunteer

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Photo Credit: Dana Zucker/Triathlon Traveling Mom

Since that first race, the kids have volunteered at numerous local and Ironman events and continue to seem genuinely engaged.  They even babysit for other families during full races to give moms a break.  I thought since it worked for us, it might work for you, too.  Here are some tips I can give you to start your kids out volunteering at triathlon races:

  • Our favorite places to volunteer at any race when starting out are body marking and transition.  At a full distance race, swim to bike transition is good, but stay away from changing tents.
  • Don’t let them be bike catchers.  There is no need for them to worry about $10,000 bikes!
  • Do not put them in harm’s way – theirs or the athletes.  Places like bike aid stations are not where they should be as one wrong move can cause an accident.  Younger kids are great sign holders and wonderful at cheering.
  • Volunteer early in the day, so you can see your athlete cross the finish line.
  • Make sure you read the volunteer guidelines carefully before you sign up and stick to the rules;  just don’t assume doing something is okay.
  • Go to the volunteer training session.

It has now been seven years since we started volunteering at triathlon races and the spirit of volunteering has spread to school and community events.  My kids always bring their school forms to have signed for volunteer hours and have way more hours than they need.  In fact, I recently had a room full of sleepover teenage girls that had to be woken up, fed, and gotten out the door.  See, they were volunteering at the finish line at a local Olympic distance race that morning.  Success…