By Katie Stacy
Tilahun Regassa almost missed his opportunity to run the 10K Cooper River Bridge Run in 27 minutes 52 seconds and take third place in 2010. He may not have made it to the starting line at all without the help of MUSC volunteer, Janis Newton.
To stay organized with more than 40,000 runners each year, the race counts on its 3,500 volunteers to keep everything running smoothly. Many of those volunteers come from MUSC.
Newton, program director at the MUSC Wellness Center, went to personally pick up Regassa last year from the Charleston airport at 8 p.m. However when she got there Regassa was nowhere to be found. After waiting numerous hours and alerting airport security of the missing Ethiopian, who spoke no English, Newton went home and planned to come back at 11 p.m. for the next incoming flight. When she returned, he still wasn't there.
After waiting three long hours, she got a call from airport security at 2 a.m. saying they had found Regassa, Newton said. "One of the biggest challenges is the lack of communication especially when many of the runners don't even speak English."
To make matters worse, the morning of the race when Regassa was to meet in the lobby for the race, he was missing once again. Newton found Regassa sound asleep in his bed. It was Newton's job to wake him up and make sure he got to the race on time.
Newton deals with the coordination of all the elite runners. Regassa is one of the elite runners from Ethiopia; he won the race in 2009 and came in third in 2010.
It is Newton's job to make sure the runners get from their country to the start line of the run each year. The run, the 7th largest event in the world with a $10,000 first place prize, attracts many elite runners worldwide.
"Many of these elite runners don't do it for the competition. This is how they feed their families and support them for a year. It's critical that they win these races," she said. She also said the runners are very appreciative of the help they receive.
MUSC has played an important part in the bridge run each year and Newton is just one example of that.
Julian Smith, bridge run director, said W. Marcus Newberry, M.D., previously the vice president of MUSC, was "the godfather" of the bridge run. Newberry was very instrumental in getting it all started 34 years ago.
This year participants may donate their registration fee to charity. Among the charities you can help is the MUSC Children's Hospital.
Smith said he is excited about the growing numbers. "This year is going to be bigger and better than ever."
There are volunteers needed for the pre-race expo at the Gaillard Auditorium as well as the Kids Run on Friday and the actual 10K race itself. Volunteers do a variety of jobs from handing out water to assisting with bus loading. Medical volunteers, except doctors who already are on staff, also are needed.
There are two events to cover: the Kids Run on April 1 from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. and the big race on April 2 from 7 a.m. to noon. Each volunteer will receive a T-shirt and should wear weather-appropriate clothes and old shoes (since some runners sometimes get sick after their run). They are asked to bring a stethoscope and blood pressure cuff if possible and to stay clear of the finish line area during the run.
For more information on being a medical volunteer call Al Hawkins at 822-8653 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information on volunteering for the runs, go to http://www.bridgerun.com and click on the volunteer page link.