Imagine a job where you’re required to get up at 4:30 a.m., drive through the darkness to downtown Akron and park in a lot that could become trapped by road closings.
You need to be at this outdoor job even if it’s pouring, even if it’s freezing. You’ll dress in layers because the pre-dawn hours could be far chillier than when your shift ends in late-morning sun, but you’ll travel light because there’s nowhere to store your personal possessions and you need to be mobile.
There’s no pay, and you get to spend your day repeatedly telling everyone else they’re doing a good job.
Far from it, says Joni Schultz, one of 2,500 volunteers helping 15,000 runners take on the Akron Marathon on Saturday morning.
“It’s so much fun,” said Schultz, who will spend Friday night on her sofa out of fear she’ll oversleep in her bed.
Schultz, an executive assistant at the accounting firm of Ernst & Young in Akron, said the marathon piqued her interest after neighbors and co-workers talked about running the debut race in 2003.
She went the second year as a spectator. What she saw moved her.
“It chokes me up to think about it,” she said. “You think they’re all going to look like runners, but you see all variety of people. Young and old. Tall and short. Big and small. It just really touched me.”
So Schultz asked her boss whether the company could get together a team to staff a fluid station, and he eagerly agreed.
Every year since, 40 co-workers have joined Schultz to hand out drinks near Quaker Square, a point that runners pass twice on the course.
Many of the volunteers are part of a group, representing local sports teams, civic organizations or government offices.
Kenmore High School students Tyrail Toney and Albert Studer-Dyer are using their experience this year as their required senior project. They have asked to be assigned to the finish line, where they can pass out medals and “be up close and personal” with the runners, Toney said.
Studer-Dyer said their project will include sharing pictures in a PowerPoint presentation to classmates.
“It seemed like an interesting way to meet people from all over the country,” he said.
Employees at DRB Systems in Green have a different motivation for volunteering.
“We have a wellness program, and this fits into it,” said Diane Pol, who works in the software company’s human resources office.
In addition to entering four teams in the relay race, DRB will have more than 20 employees volunteering at a towpath water station.
Race day will also find hundreds of individual volunteers who simply want to be part of one of Northeast Ohio’s biggest events.
For the seventh year, Colleen O’Connor, 39, will be helping out at the Kids Fun Run, where some 1,500 kids can join the day’s celebration of fitness by jogging from Spaghetti Warehouse to Lock 3.
O’Connor, who is hearing impaired, won’t have an interpreter with her, but said most people speak the universal language of smiles, gestures and “giggles.”
“I really enjoy interacting with people and meeting new people,” O’Connor said, using sign language. “And I love Akron and showing Akron off.”
Smiles are very important, organizers said at a recent training session.
Akron prides itself on treating all runners like superstars, whether they’re finishing the race in 2› hours or walking across the line in five hours.
“You are the ambassadors of the race,” volunteer director Amy Freeman told her crew.
For out-of-towners who slip into Akron in the early morning and depart with their families after crossing the finish line, volunteers might be the only area residents with whom they come in contact.
There are still assignments waiting for an eager volunteer. New volunteers, ages 14 and up, will be accepted until Thursday afternoon.
Visit www.akronmarathon.org/volunteers.aspx or call 330-434-2786. Volunteers get a T-shirt and are invited to a Volunteer Appreciation Party.
Paula Schleis can be reached at 330-996-3741 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/paulaschleis.