A 'world-class experience' for runners at Naperville marathon
If marathon organizers had to pay every person who works in some capacity to make each race a reality, chances are, there would be fewer marathons.
Organizers say volunteers are vital to the inaugural Edward Hospital Naperville Marathon and Half Marathon, which begins at 7 a.m. Sunday at Porter Avenue and Loomis Street on the North Central College campus near downtown.
Volunteers will build the "race village" beginning Saturday afternoon; gather runners' extra clothing at a gear check; protect their safety at the starting line; hand out Gatorade, water, energy gels or orange slices at 16 aid stations; navigate for aid trucks; provide medical care and expertise; help police direct traffic at 148 intersections; place medals around finishers' necks; tear down the race village after the competition concludes; and even get down on all fours to scrape smooshed energy gels off the street.
These tasks and more will be the job of roughly 850 volunteers who will do it all for free under the direction of Volunteer Coordinator Althea Wasilewski, a Naperville social worker who is donating her time to keep fellow volunteers organized and on-task.
"What I want to do is create a world-class experience for the runners," Wasilewski said. "When the runners interact with our volunteers, I want them all to feel that we really want them here and that we're so thankful they came and ran our race and got this experience."
While some of the hundreds helping with the race are "super-involved with Naperville," as Wasilewski puts it, most are runners themselves or people touched by running in some way.
"They say 'sign me up for anything. I just want to serve and give back,'" Wasilewski said. "It's been so heartwarming just to hear that."
A lot of Wasilewski's work leading up to race day has been connecting the right volunteer with the right task. Some people are obvious choices, like Naperville Park District Executive Director Ray McGury -- a longtime police officer and former Bolingbrook police chief -- as volunteer security coordinator.
"Obviously, with my 28 years in law enforcement, they saw that and thought that would be a help," McGury said.
Wasilewski's husband, Naperville police officer Mike Wasilewski, fell easily into his volunteer position as well, serving as neighborhood involvement coordinator and working to get school groups, churches, dance teams and neighbors out along the route to cheer runners on.
But when volunteers come forward without an obvious area of expertise, Wasilewski said she tries to get to know them a bit before assigning them a certain task.
"I try to assess their personality and who they are and what they're most comfortable doing," she said.
Race Director Bob Hackett said would-be volunteers often want to help runners celebrate, doling out medals after exhausted marathoners cross the finish line. Less popular are the behind-the-scenes jobs of preparing packets full of race maps, coupons and giveaways; setting up the medical tent, gear check and charity runner areas at the start/finish line; and getting down and dirty for cleanup duty. But all roles are important, he said, and all support the nearly 3,500 runners in both races.
Wasilewski and others among the 25 volunteer race coordinators have been working since spring on logistics, course layouts and communications plans, and now they're only days away from springing into action. Hackett said they won't stop until all the miles of roads and forest preserve paths the two courses use are in impeccable shape.
"You won't find a cup anywhere on the course after the marathon," Hackett said. "It's cleaner after the race than it was before."
By the numbersVolunteer race coordinators: 25
Volunteer race captains: 150
Total marathon volunteers: 850
Total aid stations staffed by volunteers: 16
Intersections controlled by volunteers and police: 148