Friday, August 26, 2005

Tales From the Body Marking Front

I've asked Intrepid Training Partner to be this blog's first-ever guest columnist and recount a few volunteering experiences from the recent Steelhead race. So without further ado, I bring you ITP's Tales from the Body Marking Front:

"We can all attest to having our moments of brilliance. Mine came recently in the thought of watching VM complete his first half-ironman tri. A long race. And I’d most likely be by myself. Which I don’t mind. But that’s a lot of down time between his transitions. But I also wanted to be there to cheer him on. VM suggested I hang out at the beach and take in the sun and scenery. Not a bad idea. Then came my moment of brilliance: why not volunteer to help out??? These races are always looking for more volunteers. And what a great way to meet people! (I’m not shy.)

"I continued this thought: Hmmm … I could help out with registration … I could help at an aid station … I could help direct the athletes … I could help with … bodymarking ………sweeeeeeeeet!!!

"So here’s a challenge: how do I land this coveted chore? How do I get race organizers to hand me a Sharpee and allow me to write all over as many men as I … can get my hands on? (“Is that my phone number on your thigh? Gee, how’d that get there????”) I am single and have a sense of humor. I’m a professional-by-day, red-blooded American female triathlete who appreciates the human form … especially the well-trained-for-a decent-distance-triathlon human male form. Am I so different from any other woman? And I have good penmanship. And I can control my drool. And I love a good adventure, so this could be a hoot!

“Dear race organizers:
I would be very interested in helping you out with the Steelhead Triathlon. I am a triathlete myself, so I know the sport very well. I’d be willing to help out with registration, bodymarking, gear check, or whatever. I will be coming in from Illinois, so I would prefer to stay close to the transition area, as I don’t know the city of St. Joe very well. Please let me know if you need my assistance. I’m happy to help. Thanks!”

"Four or five days later, I got a call from one of the organizers. He thanked me for my interest in volunteering. Then he said the magic words, “We can probably use your help over in the bodymarking area. Is that okay with you?”

"I heard a choir of angels singing in my head. I paused as though I hadn’t fully digested this concept before. And careful not to sound too much like I’d just hit the volunteer JACKPOT, I slowly uttered, “Uh …. sure. … I could do that. And I’ll probably be there very early anyway, because a friend of mine who’s in the race likes to get to his races very early. So that should work out fine.” We exchanged a few particulars and ended the call.

"The dance of joy ensued! I’m doin’ the Sharpee thing!!!! Eeoowww!!!

"And you thought bodymarkers were naïve peons.

"Taking my duties very seriously, I arrived at packet pick-up right on time on the afternoon before the race. Here’s my orders: Write the bib number down the front part of each upper arm (straight down each bicep), so the photographer and timing people can read the number easily. Then write the bib number again just above the right knee (across the lower thigh). Then the wave number goes on the back of the calf. Okay, if I must …

"So my assault on athletes’ personal space ensued. Being a public relations person, I generally find it very easy to talk to most people. So I engaged the athletes in light conversation.

'“Is this your first half-ironman?” For many, it was. For the experienced ones, they usually had a litany of other races they’d completed. A few ironman/ironwomen graced me with their presence. Very cool. One annoying blow-hard said in a chest-pumping, breathy voice, “All I need to do is finish this race, and I’m going to the national championships.” Being the smart triathlete that I am, I said, “You mean Kona?” “Yeah,” he replied with a surprised look on his face. “Oh, so you got in via the lottery?” “Uh, yeah.” I’m no dummy. And don’t talk down to me until you finish at Kona. You need to be in awe of that piece of luck, you idiot.

'The first-timers were the most fun to watch. Some wanting to look as though they’d done this a million times … maybe to avoid any unforeseen hazing ritual. “Are you nervous?’ I sometimes asked. “Yeah … why … d-d-does it show???” a few responded. Others brought significant others, kids, and/or family to help make this the grand event they’d trained endlessly for. One mom brought her two young daughters and asked that they be the ones to write the numbers on her. They were so proud of their mom. That was a really sweet scene.

'“What’s your favorite discipline?” I asked many of the athletes. Most liked the bike. There were a few strong runners. One swim enthusiast. And one guy said, “The finish line.” Can’t argue with that one.

'“Are you from around here?” This cheesy question was generally reserved for the ones I thought were really good looking. Again, I’m single. Cut to the chase. Until his girlfriend intervenes.

[Though I did ask this question when I thought I recognized Wil, and I was right. She had such a great attitude! I knew she’d do great!]

"A couple of experienced triathletes even had their own bodymarking rituals. One asked me to put a smiley face on the other calf (gee, now that’s ferocious). Another asked for a lightning bolt. VM liked that idea himself and followed suit.

"Tattoos! Lots of tattoos on the arms! A few on the calves. Having a tattoo myself, I have a definite appreciation for them. They usually have a meaning, which made for some great conversation and personal pride. Several Ironman logos with personal adornments. One family emblem. A few barbed wires. One Calvin & Hobbs (in a blonde moment, I thought it was Tigger and … well, it doesn’t matter. I was quickly corrected. Sorry dude, your artwork is fading. I didn’t realize Calvin was peeing. That’s nice …).

"The bigger challenge of the afternoon was getting the number across the thigh. Many athletes were in their street garb, so pulling up their pant legs was a challenge in some cases. One not-so-shy guy wearing jeans began to unbuckle his belt to drop his pants! “No, no, no!” I shouted. “We’ll … just … finish you tomorrow morning.” Phew!

"Yes, I did make a couple of blunders as I got caught up in conversation and forgot what number I was doing in the moment. We bodymarkers had a special wipee thing to take care of that. Thank God.

"I’m also grateful that we weren’t required to put the racer’s gender on the back calf. In a few isolated cases, I would’ve dreaded a wrong guess, if that were the case. My trusty PR remedy would be, “And what’s your name?” Murphy’s law: Chris, Robin, Morgan … Pat!

"I was often praised for my good penmanship. Yes, my handywork can be seen on VM, Shelley, and Wil, with some extra encouragement on Shelley and VM. As a triathlete, I can appreciate the small detail of having a perfect-looking number written on your arm. Even if it becomes smudged from Bodyglide and sunscreen, and eventually faded from excessive sweat and water splashes, it helps the “before” pictures look great.

"So dedicated and enthusiastic was I to my bodymarking assignment, they asked me to direct the effort on race day. (See? I can act professional!) This experience was quite a bit different. It was pitch black in the wee hours, so lighting was an issue. Athletes were juggling their bikes, as well as their nerves. Many touch-ups to do. And in the cool morning hours, most had to peel off a layer or two to reach skin. Gotta admit, for some of these guys, that was fun to watch. A few times, I had to remind myself, ahem, you’re a professional, remember?

"Operationally, I could go on and on about how things should’ve been organized differently along these lines, but I’d rather keep this light. I went on to help out during T1 and T2 … which I may write about separately. They asked me to return to next year’s race, and I just may do that. I learned a ton from this experience. And I had a fantastic time in the process! It was great to see friends crossing the finish line of such an awesome distance tri. I met so many great athletes with a ton of enthusiasm and experiences to share. It’s made me appreciate the sport that much more and covet the fact that I am a fellow racer myself. Because of my schedule, it’ll be some time before I can tackle a half-ironman distance. So in the meantime, I’ll suffer through my bodymarking chores. The race is expected to be a Kona qualilfier next year. Sweeeeeeeeeeeeet!!!!

“Dear race organizers, Remember me?…”


nancytoby said...

Too funny! ITP cracks me up!!

Wil said...

I can TOTALLY picture her in all of this - LOL!

Comm's said...

I had no idea ITP is a chick. Great guest post.

Flatman said...

I too, thought ITP was a guy...

Sorry, but no indication was given.

When is the new blog starting, ITP?

bunnygirl said...

I love this! I had no idea bodymarking could be fun-- kinda makes me want to go find a tri to volunteer at RIGHT NOW!

Keryn said...

So now I want to volunteer AND be in the race! I agree...we need an ITP blog.

Hey, given the VM is surrounded by lovely women in every aspect of his life, does it really surprise you that ITP is a chick?

Shelley said...

Oh yeah!!! body marking is the place to be...all those HOT bods!!!

mipper said...

she's too funny. great post ITP.

tarheeltri said...

Very funny!