By Nancy Heslin
You know the feeling. Less than 10 kilometres from the Finish Line, your tired body is arguing convincingly with your mind about why this would be a good place to stop. The distance could be 5k or 50k, it all seems too far for your fatiguing legs.
All of a sudden you hear clapping and cheering from a couple of strangers wearing volunteer sweatshirts, who yell, “Way to go! You can do it! Keep going!”
Like a jolt of cold water to the face, determination kicks in, silencing all the negative voices from your weary body, and you’re good to go the distance.
For anyone who has ever done an organised sporting event, volunteers play a mammoth role, whether it’s to hold out a cup of water along the route, to scream words of encouragement or to un-Velcro a muddy, wet race chip at the Finish Line.
ÖTILLÖ swimruns – which are held outside of urban zones and need surveillance in, during and out of each swim leg – couldn’t happen without the help of the countless folk who offer their time for free.
Some are swimrunners who are out with an injury but want to support other racers; others are families and friends who live in the race location and want to be involved. Then there are those like Carolin Safarik and Alina Mertes (pictured below) who’ve never heard of the sport before but saw an ad on the Stockholm tourism website looking for volunteers.
“We are both German but working as au pairs in Stockholm,” Alina says. “By chance, we saw online that ÖTILLÖ needed volunteers for the Utö swimrun and thought it would be a fun to take the ferry over to the island for the weekend.”
Carolin adds, “It’s a cool way to discover the Stockholm Archipelago and the sport of swimrun. Plus we’ve met so many new people.”
Volunteerism may be the fastest growing trend in global tourism, but you don’t have to travel half way across the world to give back: you can make an impact at a local level.
Mats Skott, ÖTILLÖ Founder and Race Director with Michael Lemmel, is in charge of organising the volunteers on site, for both the Sprint and full distance races. The various tasks include checking in racers at registration, working at energy stations or timing stations and ensuring safety along the course.
“We are dependent on volunteers who, with their commitment, time and energy, make the World Series races as exceptional as the original ÖTILLÖ event.”
As Winston Churchill once stated, “We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.” I’m pretty sure he was talking about the swimrun community.
Ready to wear one of those cool yellow Staff vests? Check out the ÖTILLÖ website for details.
ARTICLE FIRST PUBLISHED IN SWIMRUN LIFE MAGAZINE ISSUE #8 (AUGUST 2018).