Red Vests, Black Hats, and Angels

We gathered in the back corner of the convention center at 6AM on a brisk Sunday morning.  Over the last few days, the volunteer medical staff had assembled a mobile hospital containing everything from a massage station to an ICU.

The race volunteers are known by their outfits.  The Red Vests help runners and fans who have medical problems at the end of the race.  The Black Hats wear Stetsons and cowboy boots as they oversee the organized chaos at the finish line of a major marathon.  The Angels wear yellow windbreakers and help runners back to the warmth of the convention center after they finish.

Some of us nursed coffee to wake up, while others inhaled breakfast burritos in anticipation of the long day ahead.  We had all volunteered for the finish line medical team for the marathon, half-marathon, and 5K.  The team leaders checked their radios while the rest put on their red vests emblazoned with Finish Line Medical.

After our briefing, we grabbed portable oxygen tanks and Automated External Defibrillators and headed to the start corrals.  Like past years, we spent most of our time directing nervous runners and telling family members where to watch their loved ones.  After the starting gun fired, we moved to the finish line and split into assigned teams.

Partly cloudy skies with temperatures in the 40’s foretold a good race.  The participants had trained for months for this day and the excitement filled the air.  As the day warmed, our worries shifted from hypothermia and muscle cramps to heat stroke, hyponatremia, and dehydration. We scanned the passing runners for those who needed our help.  Our challenge was to distinguish the majority of runners who would struggle successfully to the finish line from the small minority whose cardiovascular systems were about to collapse.

From the elite athletes who blazed course records to those at the back of the pack who struggled to finish before the six-hour time cut, I tip my hat to all the runners gave their best today.

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