The magic of volunteering in Amateur Radio

By

Devon Day, KF6KEE

 

 

 

It was 12:15 p.m., 10 July. The first runner, Randy Isler, had just crossed the fast-moving Cataract Creek toward the Sherman Aid Station, the fourth out of thirteen along the course. He moved with confidence and clarity. His personal support team stood by with warm food and words of encouragement. The team of volunteer Amateur Radio operators was also ready. Jerry Gray, an EMT from nearby Lake City, stood by with food, medical supplies, and the athletes drop bags. Our four-element beam was in place. We stood by, monitoring the race net control in Silverton on our 25-watt, Midland-13-510 mobile. Carol Lewin, KC6ECO, clutched her clipboard, ready to check off incoming runners. I stood by the large, laminated chart, ready to check in the first of the 82 runners scheduled to pass our check-in point in the next seven hours.

 

Ticket to adventure

My experiences as a ham operator over the past year and a half have been extraordinary! When I first began studying for my license, I had no idea what wonderful experiences lay before me, adventures made possible because of my ability to use Amateur Radio. I was about to travel 853 miles from my home near the Queen Mary in Long Beach, California, to become part of a team of over 50 volunteer Amateur Radio operators who all serve as a part of a huge support team of over 225 that make the Hardrock 100 race possible.

 

The Hardrock story

The Hardrock 100 is the most challenging "ultra" foot race in America. It began eight years ago and has grown in international popularity ever since. Experienced runners from Great Britain, New Zealand, and Germany participated with experienced Americans. The 82 starters began the race from Silverton, Colorado. This year the race began in the rain on Friday at 6:02 a.m. The winner, Ricky Denesik, of Telluride, Colorado, cruised into Silverton 31 hours, 12 minutes, and 31 seconds later. Our challenge, as communicators, was to ensure the safety of the runners throughout the weekend.

 

The race

The racecourse snakes its way from 7,500 feet to 14,000 feet across Handies Peak. The route forces runners to climb a total of 33,015 feet and descend the same in the course of the grueling race. In one challenging, 10-mile segment, runners climbed from 9,500 feet to 14,000 feet. It is a grueling race. Running at an average altitude of over 11,000 feet above sea level, breathing is a challenge in itself. But the challenge of running a total of 101.3 miles without sleep, and without any time out for lengthy rest, leaves some runners disoriented. The elevation changes also pose problems for the communications team, but years of experience by the race organizers have resulted in a nearly perfect system that is as efficient as it is effective. Two teams of Hams had to hike all of their equipment into their aid station site.

 

Historically, only one third to one half of the starters finish before the predetermined time limit. this year, there were 38 finishers who crossed the finish line in Silverton before the 48-hour cutoff time. Any runner who checks into an Aid Station later than the designated time limit is pulled from the race at that point.

 

Our aid station

The Sherman Aid Station was graced by tall aspens and pine as well as beautiful flowers including the famous Colorado Columbine, wild pink roses, blue bells, and painted brush. One of thirteen such Aid Stations along the racecourse, Sherman is an abandoned mining camp, where gold, silver, copper, and lead were pulled from the ground as far back as 1877.

 

The site was divided from the incoming runners by the fast-running Catarack Creek. Runners could walk over a large fallen pine tree or brave the icy creek. The stream was only about 30 inches deep but the fast-moving water made it tough for some of the tired participants.

 

Rain poured on the runners and the station volunteers at about four in the afternoon on race day but the Aid Station was well covered, thanks to the volunteer fire fighters from Lake City who built a yurt, whose original design dates back to the nomadic Chinese of Ghengis Khan. It is a covered dome that provided excellent protection in the country of extreme terrain and weather conditions. The runners stayed nice and dry while they ate and refreshed themselves.

 

I worked Sherman Townsite with Jim Lewin, WD6FET, and Carol Lewin, KC6ECO. Carol and I would check in the runners as they crossed Cataract Creek; my son, Chris and EMT Jerry Gray took over from there. Chris gave the runners their drop bags and poured water into the runners' bottles. Jerry's niece, along with her friend plus three volunteer fire fighters from Lake City, would give the runners sandwiches, feed them soup and all the Gatorade they could drink. When they thought they were ready, the runners checked out with Carol and me and took off for the next 10 miles of the race. Some stayed with us for only two minutes. As runners left, one of our communications team would call in athlete's numbers, their time in and out to net control in Silverton operated by tireless Molly Hardman, N3CHZ, Steve Blaylock, NHGV, Jerome Janisse, KAUMT, Jim Scott, W9KV, and a host of others.

 

The top finishers had family at Sherman Townsight. Moms and dads, coaches and friends set up their own aid station. They had burgers cooking, dry clothes waiting, hugs, and words of encouragement. I felt those runners had a big advantage. I learned to quickly look up the runner's number, who had no support people waiting for him or her, and call out the runner's name for encouragement. A runner would come in and shout out his number. "76 in." I'd call back, "Got you, Bill. We're ready for you." The runner's face would break from the concentration of the race for just a minute and smile. The Amateur Radio team did more than communicate "check in" and "check out" times, we became the surrogate family and friends. Most of the runners smiled as they left. They knew the Amateur Radio team was there for them and thanked us as they left.

 

One runner came in with wobbly legs, who was obviously suffering from the demands of the first thirty miles. He departed from Sherman Aid Station only to return two hours later, withdrawing from the race. These "extreme" runners seem to know their limitations.

 

We had one competitor who failed to show up at our Aid Station by the cutoff time at 7:30 p.m. He had left Pole Creek Aid Station, ten miles back, but never made it to us. Nine-and-a-half hours into the race, there was no sign of the runner. I stood by the stream with a flashlight, hoping to help the runner find his way. I continued to monitor the race frequency, but I knew there was nothing I could do. Jerry Gray headed into the woods and came back with the runner 30 minutes later.

 

Jerry is not only well trained in medical emergency procedure, he is a long distance runner himself. In another 30 minutes it would have been pitch black. That runner was dropped from the race and went back to town, safe and sound.

 

A runner is missing!

The next morning, we were awakened by pounding on the RV door. It was the Lake City Sheriff. One man never made it from our sight to Grouse Gulch. He was five hours overdue. A search party had been formed on either side of that leg of the race. The sheriff wanted us to run communications with Silverton. We jumped up and got the radios on, as the search commenced. They found the runner an hour later, asleep. The organizers of the race take great pride in that they have never lost a runner. Given the immensity of the challenge, it is amazing. It is due to the incredible team of volunteers who work behind the scenes to coordinate the movements of the runners with race headquarters in Silverton.

 

The magic of Joel Zucker

One runner, Joel Zucker, stood out from the others. Joel immediately touched the hearts of the Amateur Radio operators and aid station volunteers who met him. It was Joel's third Hardrock 100 race. Joel was a librarian from Freeville, New York. Joel came into camp, I quickly checked out his number and said, "We got you Joel. How are you doing?" Smiling, Joel said, "Great and you need to treat me special. I'm the shortest runner here." I turned and looked at him and started laughing with him. His eyes were bright and after 30 miles of hard running, he was in a great mood. He unloaded his fanny pack and sat down to eat and get ready for the next leg of the race. He told us it was his third race and he would finish this one under the cutoff time, too. Unlike some of the other runners, Joel was relaxed and had time to talk to the others who were running the race for the first time. When he left, I shouted words of encouragement and watched him start off for the trail leading to Handies Peak.

 

On Sunday, during the awards ceremony, I saw Joel sitting by himself in the bleachers in the high school gym in Silverton. I asked him if I could take a picture of my favorite runner. The other runners hooted and teased him. He smiled and said, "I'd be honored." Later when Joel went up to get his lithograph for finishing the race, I snapped pictures like he was part of my family.

 

Two weeks later when I returned to Durango, Colorado, for a vacation with my family, I was devastated when handed a copy of the Durango Herald. There in the Sports Section was an article written by Eric Davidson announcing the death of Joel Zucker en route to the Albuquerque Airport from Silverton. My favorite runner was gone but he had touched my life in a special way. I was able to send my memories and those last pictures to his family, who were overwhelmed by the response of the running and Amateur Radio community after his death. Plans are being made to name a trail of the race in Joel's memory.

 

Victory!

At the awards ceremony on Sunday in Silverton, the Hardrock 100 winners received a signed, numbered lithograph created especially for the race. Six women ran the race and four finished. The top female runner came in fifteenth overall. Eliza MacLean, from Mebane, North Carolina, looked radiant as she accepted her awards. The top male runner, Ricky Denesik, walked easily up to the awards table, grinning broadly. He looked like he just took a walk in the park. The conditioning of these athletes is awesome. In addition to the lithographs that all of the finishers received, both Eliza and Ricky won a golden mining pan for top overall times.

 

The rewards of being an Amateur Radio operator

It was an important experience to be able to be a part of such a wonderful team of volunteers, to be treated as if I were part of the race family, to get some top-notch practice working Amateur Radio in a well-organized communications net, and to help to the runners. I was able to see some "knock-down" gorgeous country, that, as a tourist from California, I would probably never know about. I have become "rich in experiences" as result of being a volunteer in radio communications and was touched by the special magic of knowing Joel Zucker. Of all of my volunteer experiences in Amateur Radio, working radio for the Hardrock 100 has been the most rewarding. We were able to keep the runners safe, serve as encouragers, and assist the local sheriffs when one runner was lost. All of this occurred as a result of my new skills in Amateur Radio. It has been marvelous and completely rewarding, going far beyond my expectations. Amateur Radio is more than just technical operation; it's about people, too!

 

Reprinted from WORLDRADIO

 

GRUMMAN AMATEUR RADIO CLUB

MINUTES OF GENERAL MEETING 4/16/03

By Pete, N2PYV

 

 

The meeting was called to order by Pat at 5:36 p.m.

All present introduced themselves.

 

TREASURER'S REPORT

Finances continue to be in good shape.

 

REPEATER REPORT

Gordon, KB2UB

There is a little distortion on the Bethpage Repeater. Gordon thinks it may be caused by desensing of the receiver caused by overload from the transmitter. It has been discovered that the duplexer is rated for only 40 watts and we have been running about 80 watts on the transmitter. Gordon will turn down the transmitter power to about 40 watts temporarily to determine if that solves the problem. If it does, we will have two alternatives. One is to leave the transmitter at lower power. The other is to install a separate receive antenna.

 

NET REPORT

Zack, WB2PUE

Zack reported that the Thursday Night 2-Meter Net was good last week. The Sunday Morning 40-Meter Net had fair propagation. Northrop Grumman has set up a new net on Wednesdays. It is intended to include hams from each of the major divisions of the company throughout the US. The net meets at 3:00 p.m EST on 21.360 Mhz. and on 28.360 Mhz. at 3:15 p.m. EST.

 

 

 

VE REPORT

Pete, N2PYV

Bob, W2ILP, was absent, so Pete read the VE Report from the minutes of the 4/9/03 Executive Meeting as follows: Bob reported that there were seven VEs and four applicants. The VEs went to the home of one applicant who was handicapped. There were two applicants that upgraded to General, one that made Technician and one to Extra.

 

WAG REPORT - Bob, W2FPF

No Activity

 

HOUSE REPORT

Pat, KE2LJ

Gordon has picked out the generator that we would like to buy. It is a Honda 5 KW with the quietest muffler installed and a 13-gallon fuel tank. Pat discussed this with the N/G Recreation Department and they said that they would pay for the generator if we would let them use it for other clubs. He will proceed with this and hope to have the generator by Field day.

Pat reported that he had obtained the key for a shed in back of Plant 14 where we can put our field day equipment. We will have to bag and cover the stuff because the roof leaks. We will set up a time to move the equipment.

 

 

MEMBERSHIP

The Executive Committee and the general membership approved the following candidate:

James G. McAward, WA2LGN, Advanced, for Sustaining Membership.

 

 

 

 

 

 

NEW BUSINESS

Pat has updated the Club Website. It has a new look and now contains a link to the rules for Field Day.

There was a discussion about the preparations for Field Day, which will be held on June 28, & 29 this year.

Pat has received an email from Bob Koch who is the Suffolk County Commissioner for the Boy Scouts. He stated that the Boy Scouts were planning a Boy Scout Show for Saturday May 3 at Sports Plus parking lot on Route 347. Our club was invited to set up a booth and put on an Amateur Radio Demonstration. Pat asked for volunteers to help man the booth.

 

PROGRAM

There was no program because the presenters were not able to attend because of the Jewish holiday.