Luvuyo Bangazi | Volunteers show how much Bay residents love Ironman

Today marks exactly a month to go before the starting gun is fired at the 14th edition of the Ironman African Championship. In this column I have articulated many times how this prestigious event sits in the context of a global series of Ironman races. Ironman has no more than six continental championships events, each carrying a larger than normal pool of points for professional athletes and equally a larger than normal pool of Kona World Championship slots for age groupers. To say the stakes are high is an understatement – after all this event is rated among the best in terms of spectator friendliness. To prove Nelson Mandela Bay citizens love this race, I tried to assist a security guard at my child’s school to find a volunteer spot. A friendly volunteer coordinator called me to say there were more than 1 000 volunteers overprescribed. That is 1 000 more Bay citizens who are willingly and freely donating of their time and resources to be of service to athletes. Volunteers, just like athletes, are the heart and soul of the event. Volunteers are crucial to the event to a point where their actions could have a profound impact on the outcome of the race on all levels. Anyone who has ever witnessed the logistics and detail that go on behind the scenes at any Ironman event will appreciate the magnitude and importance of volunteers. Recently, I was fortunate enough to participate at an Iron distance event in Germany, Challenge Regensburg, and there we witnessed a deep culture of volunteerism at play. The Germans, who are often perceived as unwelcoming, completely surprised us.

Europe, some may argue, has had decades of development and issues like unemployment are not that high on their agenda. That may be so, but South Africans are not far behind if you believe the whole Ubuntu idea. Nelson Mandela Bay is known worldwide as the Friendly City and has at every event lived up to that tag. Volunteerism from a wide variety of Bay citizens is the ultimate display of the warmth, friendliness, hospitality and love for the sport. Many of these volunteers start working many days in advance, often after-hours and long into the night. They make sure athletes have the best possible experience pre-, during and post-race day. Without volunteers, athletes do not have a race. My journey to Ironman started as a volunteer in 2013. Prior to that year I used to get terribly irritated by this race when I lived in Walmer Boulevard, the old bike route. Then, I had no idea what this race was all about other than the fact that it was a terrible inconvenience. Since taking part as a volunteer and later as an athlete, I began to appreciate the value of this event to our city and to health and wellness. I urge every citizen of the Bay to at least consider volunteering for this iconic event, even if it is once in a lifetime. The experience of being of service to others for no benefit brings a level of personal satisfaction that no amount of money can bring. It is too late to get in for April 15 but there are two days of racing coming up in September, the Ironman 70.3 World Championship.