For Others: The Spirit of Volunteering

As I scramble to finish my grad school work, tune my skis and pack my bags before tomorrow’s early flight to Steamboat Springs, Colorado for the 2013 US National Telemark Championships, I have to give praise where praise is certainly due. Perhaps even overdue.

A ski racer, especially a telemark racer since the sport is underfunded, is the one who gets the glory, who gets the free or deeply discounted ski gear, who gets the picture on the website and the write up in the newspaper for their achievements on the ski hill. The volunteer–the gate judge, timer, jump judge, chief of course, United States Telemark Board of Directors, parent helper–doesn’t get anything. All the volunteers, and there are so many who are needed to put on a race, especially a four day National Championship race series, are not featured in the newspaper or even get a free pair of socks. As a racer, you’re on the hill for much of the day, but the first people on the hill and the last ones off are the volunteers. Many of the telemark volunteers are parents so they do have a vested interest in the sport and they want to support their child and the team, but I’ve been to many races where community members lend a hand, standing out in the cold snow for hours and hours watching each racer navigate the gates. Where’s the fun in that?

I’ve done it before, last year in fact, when I couldn’t participate in Nationals as a competitor and instead helped as a gate judge. Luckily at Gunstock, it was warm. Many of our races are held in single digit temperatures with the sun hidden under layers of fog. It’s tough work–cold, certainly, and also takes a good amount of sacrifice to devote a weekend to helping others achieve their dreams on the race course.

There is a true spirit to volunteering and it doesn’t only happen at telemark races. I’ve worked for many non-profits who rely on volunteers, scores of them, to help with operations. To help employ their mission. To get the job done. And without volunteers, all of these organizations, the USTSA included, would be able to function.

What a selfless act. What a way to contribute one’s time and talents to helping others. This isn’t mandated or required by anyone (well, unless you’ve been in trouble and judge has ordered you to community service) yet time and time again, when a rally call is thrown out into the wide world, people come to help. I can understand why many like to volunteer for the symphony because in exchange for their effort, they can attend a classical music concert. But what do race volunteers get? Sometimes a case of cold toes?

It’s easy to ignore those on the sidelines, stamping their feet in the snow and warming their hands, when the excitement is on the podium when the cowbells are passed out and all are cheering for the winner. I must remember when I’m in Steamboat to say a grateful “thank you” to those who are there to ensure that my dream, as well as the dream of my teammates, comes true on the side of the mountain.

When all is wrong in the world (gun violence, climate change, government bullshit, etc) I have to take stock in those whose small deeds, whose acts of kindness actually do make the world a much better place, even if they themselves won’t be awarded a medal.

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