In Falmouth, Volunteers ‘Run’ the Race

Off the course, 2,000 pitch in to make the Falmouth Road Race a success. A few share why they do it, year after year.

Written by Bill Higgins | Photography courtesy of the new balance falmouth road race

If there are “eight million stories in the naked city,” as the 1940s film claimed, then there are nearly 13,000 tales to be told at the 46th Annual New Balance Falmouth Road Race. A centerpiece of summer, the 7-mile run from Woods Hole to Falmouth Heights is Sunday, August 19. The official field is 12,800 and everyone has a story.

For the elite, it’s a dash for cash ($10,000 each for the men’s and women’s winners, plus bonuses) and the crown as champion of one of the country’s top races. For most everyone else, it’s personal: improve a past performance, beat a friend or simply finish.

Behind the scenes, it’s an army of 2,000 volunteers who set the stage for the day’s drama. While the competitors are in the spotlight, it’s the volunteers who really run the race. Without their contributions, Falmouth would not function.

Volunteer manager Nicole Spencer and the race committee pull the pieces together with a comprehensive manual. Her motto is “Teamwork divides the task and multiplies the success!” The volunteers’ reward is a T-shirt and a gift, an invitation to an appreciation party and pure satisfaction.

“It takes a village to have an awesome event, and the volunteers play an important part in making this so successful,” says Chris Montross, a senior executive with the healthcare company Aetna, which sponsors the volunteer operation. “It’s a remarkable commitment and it could never happen without their dedication.”

The race is the main event, but there is so much more to the week. The health and fitness expo opens Thursday at Falmouth High School and continues through Saturday. That’s where the runners arrive for their numbers and goodie bags. There is an annual track festival, including a family fun run, and high school and elite mile races, on Saturday afternoon. This all requires planning. The expo needs to be set up. There are thousands of T-shirts to fold and 13,000 souvenir bags to be assembled.

Volunteers stand ready to award runners’ medals.

The expo is where you’ll find Elaine Curtis. The mother of two teenage athletes and a physical therapist in the Falmouth schools, she first volunteered when her kids were in middle school. She’s now in her sixth year and serves as a team captain overseeing groups at the expo. Curtis’ daughter assists with traffic and parking. Her son works the Monday after the race cleaning up loose ends.

“I grew up in Falmouth and have run the race so I appreciate how important it is to the community,” Curtis says. “The first year I was with my kids at the finish line lugging crates of bananas. I thought it was important for them to be involved and give their time. The race helps a lot of people.”

Elaine Curtis (center) works as a team captain at the road race expo. Her children, too, volunteer at the event. | Photo courtesy of Elaine Curtis

Race day Sunday begins early, around 3 a.m.—well before the start—with distribution of water for five stations along the course. There is also the organization and setup of the start and finish lines, runner transportation, ballfield vendors, parking, security, awards ceremony, recycling, and finally, cleanup.

Dina Pandya, an information systems associate at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, has been a volunteer since 2012. She works at the starting line, assisting elite runners and wheelchair competitors.

“They all have their routines. We’re there to help in any way we can,” she says. “The main thing is to communicate with the other groups and make sure everyone gets to the start on time.”

Pandya arrives in Woods Hole early, around 5:30 a.m. Once her responsibilities are completed, she runs the race. “It’s a fun day I look forward to.”

All roads lead to the Heights, where thousands of spectators at the ballfield and the beach cheer on the runners. However, the euphoria of finishing can be tempered by the strain of running seven hot miles. That’s when the medical operation springs into action. Phil Motta of East Falmouth, an Emergency Medical Technician and assistant chief at Joint Base Cape Cod Fire Department, has been part of the team since the 1970s.

Doctors Robert Davis and John Jardine are the medical directors. They coordinate with athletic trainer Chris Troyanos and other professionals and volunteers in excess of 200 to provide coverage and care.

“I got involved in the early years and found my niche at the finish line because that’s usually where the action is,” Motta says. “Heat and humidity are often an issue. With my EMT background, it’s where I can help the most.”

Motta keeps a close eye on runners as they finish. Some only need a helping hand and recover quickly, while others require more attention in the nearby medical tents. He is also in radio communication with personnel along the final stretches of the course and on the adjacent ballfield. Together, they can respond rapidly to any situation.

“The key is we’re prepared,” Motta says. “We’ve come so far since those early years, and everything is well organized. We want a safe day for everyone. The race has so many feel-good and positive stories. It’s rewarding to have a small part.”

And then Monday, the day after, the committee will meet to review and begin planning for 2019, seeking ways to make a great event even better. One constant they can count on: volunteers will be ready, as always, to run the race.

EMT Phil Motta of East Falmouth (right) lends a hand on the medical team. “It’s rewarding to have a small part,” he says. | Photo courtesy of Phil Motta

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