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Angela Bekkala: Volunteering Makes A Difference

Angela Bekkala drew some inspiration while volunteering at a 5K this year.

Hair spray painted pink, blue and green. A selfie station. Hoola hoops.

Those are definitely not the typical sights I see when running a road race.

But that’s just part of the celebration of a Girl’s on the Run 5K.

Earlier this year, I volunteered at my local chapter of Girl’s on the Run 5K race. Every fall and spring, the girls involved put all their hard work and practice to the test with this road race celebration. And that’s just what it is—a celebration of having fun being active, sticking with a goal and achieving it.

Girl’s on the Run (GOTR) wasn’t around when I was young so I never had an opportunity to learn firsthand what it was all about. I’ve wanted to be a coach ever since I started to run more seriously and even more so when I became a mother to a daughter. Their message of kindness to all, finding power in your abilities and being the most remarkable you, is something that I think every girl (and boy) needs to hear, especially during the growing years. But my work schedule prevents me from being able to make their practice times so coaching isn’t an option.

Even though I can’t coach, I still wanted to do something to be involved. I jumped at the chance to volunteer for the end of the year 5K race. As an added bonus, I brought my 4-year-old daughter along. I wanted her to see the girls being strong, confident, healthy and independent. She sees me running but I wanted her to see what running can do no matter your age.

Our first assignment was at the hair “salon.” We spray painted the hair of the girls, moms and even some dads. It was fantastic to see the support the girls had from their teammates, coaches, friends and family. I loved that even a few dads wore fairy wings to support their team. Their excitement was infectious.

Our next assignment was at water stop No. 1. Even though I’ve run plenty of races, I’ve never paid attention to the setup of water stops. I always just ran by and there were people handing out cups. I’ve got a new respect for anyone who works water stops. We got bombarded all at once. It was a mad house for 10 minutes of arms, water jugs, cups and hot, sweaty runners.

And then, just like that, it was completely quiet.

As the last group left, we all just looked at each other like, Whoa! What just happened?

It was definitely an eye-opening experience being on the other side of the table. Races can’t happen unless there are volunteers. And the more volunteers there are, the smoother the race will go. Since that experience, I’ve made an even bigger point to thank every volunteer I see at a race. It doesn’t matter if it’s someone handing out a race packet or on the course directing traffic, they all deserve to be thanked for giving up their time so runners can do what they love.

For more on the Saucony 26 Strong program, which pairs up 13 coaches with 13 marathon rookies, visit 26Strong.com.