Making a Point and an Impact at Aid Station 5
By Marianne Hamilton
By the time IRONMAN 70.3 competitors arrive at Aid Station 5 on the run portion of the competition, they’re usually hot, sunburned, and exhausted (or, in some years, frozen, rain-soaked, and exhausted). But veterans of the grueling contest know that this particular stop will offer what they need to keep going: icy watermelon balls to soothe parched mouths and throats, a hanging sprinkler shower providing a welcome cool down, humorous signage prompting a few chuckles, and most of all, upbeat music to send them on their way to the Finish Line.
Since St. George first hosted an IRONMAN competition in 2012, Sara Lang has been a volunteer at Aid Station 5. Now the venue’s captain – a role she’s fulfilled for the past six years – Lang always aims to create the most memorable, enjoyable, and supportive site on the athletes’ 70.3-mile circuit of Greater Zion.
Having served as a quality manager at Reid-Ashman Manufacturing for more than two decades, Lang has outstanding time management skills. Such talents come in handy, given the time required to recruit and organize nearly 100 volunteers; anticipate the hydration and nourishment needs of thousands of athletes (and those volunteers, who are often on the job for more than 12 hours on race day); transport tables, chairs, tons of food and gallons of water and sports drinks out to a remote location on Snow Canyon Parkway; coordinate electrical and water hook-up needs with City, County and IRONMAN personnel; create signage; keep the music going nonstop; and attend to hundreds of other unanticipated details.
Lang wouldn’t have it any other way.
“It really is just fun,” she says, grinning. “It’s a ton of work, of course. But it’s always fun to try to do those little extra things that the athletes will love, and that the volunteers can get excited about.”
Hence the watermelon balls, which require Lang, her family and friends to start scooping days before the triathlon (the Langs typically carve up anywhere from six to ten melons each year), and Lang’s playlist, which includes more than nine hours of music guaranteed to revive and reenergize competitors when they need it most.
Says Lang, “I’m pretty proud of my playlist. A couple of years ago, a woman ran by at the end of the day, when everyone’s kind of slowed down, and she heard a particular song. She stopped in front of our table and started dancing. I said, ‘looks like you like this song.’ And she said ‘Yep, I’m not leaving until it’s over!’ It was really cool to see that she left feeling so happy.”
Lang has countless stories of her volunteers going the “extra mile” for flagging runners. In 2012, when triathletes were completing the IRONMAN, an athlete with a prosthetic leg was struggling mightily by the time she reached Lang’s station. “One of our volunteers walked all the way down to the Finish Line with her, to support her while she completed her race,” Lang says, still marveling.
More recently, a runner suffering severe leg cramps was convinced to sit in a camp chair at Lang’s station, whereupon volunteers briskly rubbed his calves. Soon, he was happily headed to the Finish Line. “You just never know what you’re going to see, or what an athlete will need at that moment,” Lang confirms. “One year our station was next to the bike course, where there was a line of port-o-potties. Even though our station wasn’t technically for the cyclists’ use, several of our volunteers went over throughout the day to hold the riders’ bikes up while they were using the port-o-potties. You don’t know what’s needed until it’s happening.”
Lang’s most cherished memory was created the year – one of many – that “Fireman Rob” competed in IRONMAN. That year, intending to raise funds for firefighters’ suicide awareness, he donned his complete collection of gear before starting the run. But in doing so, he missed the sunscreen station, where cyclists transitioning to the run course lather up every exposed bit of skin. “His back was full-on blisters, and he was wearing 70 pounds of gear,” Lang recalls. “My husband’s a firefighter in Washington City, so seeing Rob do that in full firefighter turnout was pretty remarkable.”
With the IRONMAN 70.3 World Championships coming to Greater Zion, Lang and her family have been hard at work for months. Per usual, their garage will soon be crammed full of the supplies that will be needed on race day (“by race day our garage is mostly uninhabitable,” she notes), and she and her daughters are crafting posters. When it’s suggested that the success of such an undertaking requires a unique combination of management acumen and selflessness, Lang immediately defers the credit to her volunteers.
“There are always people who are out there all day in the hot sun, doing whatever they can to make sure the athletes are taken care of, and they have the best day ever,” Lang concludes. “I always joke that I assemble this amazing group of people who get us here. And then I don’t do anything; I just point.”