Louise Minchin on volunteering at the Deva triathlon
PUBLISHED: 00:00 08 July 2019
Taking a break from competing in order to volunteer at a triathlon has Louise reflecting on the kindness of strangers.
It might seem odd to you, but for me it's quite normal to be standing beside a river shivering in my wetsuit at 6.30am on a Sunday morning. Usually, I'm shaking with nervous jitters as I'm about to jump in and swim as fast as I can alongside dozens of other neoprene-clad look-a-likes at the start of a triathlon. This month though, I was togged up in all my gear, plus a high-visibility jacket and some borrowed sailing boots, so I could lend a hand at Chester Triathlon Club's biggest event of the year, the Deva triathlon.
Since I threw myself into mass participation sport, and especially triathlons, six years ago, I have been to more than 50 different races all over the U.K. and dozens in Cheshire. And although each event is different, one thing is always the same; the incredible volunteers. Whether it's a Park Run in Chester, a swim in the Dee, a bike ride in Tatton Park or triathlon in Cholmondeley Castle, they have been staffed by an army of kind-hearted spirits who give up their free time so other people can complete their own individual challenge or indulge their passion. Without their generosity the races just couldn't happen and I have always been very thankful for their support.
I will never forget my overwhelming sense of relief at the end of the swim in my first triathlon when a marshal grasped my hand and helped haul me out of the river spluttering, discombobulated and wobbly. I was so relieved to have made it and their hand was the proof that I was safe and sound despite having a panic attack in the water right at the start. That's why, when I volunteered to help, I asked if I could be on the swim exit.
There were about a thousand competitors. Volunteer kayakers and paddle boarders guided them around the course, warmly encouraging those at the back to keep on swimming, and two of us waited for them on the ramp to help them out. The fastest athletes glided in, starting to remove their wetsuits before they were even upright, and whizzed past us without a glance. Our biggest issue was persuading the more nervous swimmers to swim right up to us, so they could clamber out more easily. My biggest relief was when my husband David made it to the finish, and I pulled him out safely, having worried about him all the way.
The four hours in knee-deep water passed in a blur and it was almost more exhausting than doing a triathlon itself - and equally as rewarding. I loved it. I will go back to racing, but in the meantime a huge thank you to the hundreds of volunteers who make the races possible. You are brilliant.