Carolyn Hoffman, 46
A Yarmouth nurse who has been volunteering at the annual Tri for a Cure triathlon in South Portland in the medical tent since the event started eight years ago takes her job very seriously – but that doesn’t mean she doesn’t have fun.
“Our biggest role is supporting the women out there,” said Carolyn Hoffman. “The biggest thing is being out on the course and cheering these women on. For so many of them, this is not just a physical struggle; it’s an emotional (experience). To be there for them is so rewarding.”
Hoffman is the triathlon’s medical coordinator who oversees about 20 medical volunteers, such as retired nurses, emergency medical technicians, or students majoring in physical therapy. She also volunteers with two doctors, two nurses certified in advanced cardiovascular life support, a medical scribe, an athletic trainer and a physical therapist.
“I have a huge range of people, so I have to take their skills and (use) them appropriately around the course,” said Hoffman, a nurse at Bayview Pediatrics in Yarmouth.
While the most skilled volunteers are assigned to the main medical tent, she also delegates volunteers to oversee the different legs of the race, particularly the swim portion, which “is usually the most dangerous area,” but also “so fun to see,” Hoffman said.
“We also put people on the run course at miles 1 and 2, and in the transition area – especially now, where we have so many relays,” she said.
When Tri for a Cure began, Hoffman said, there were less than 30 relay teams participating. This year there are 270. Describing a volunteer’s role in the transition areas, she said, “It’s coordinating groups of three or four people, so it gets a little crazy.”
But the biggest medical challenge at Tri for a Cure is the fact that there are hundreds of first-time triathletes that have never completed the course before, Hoffman said.
“They might not be in that great of shape,” she explained, “and from a medical standpoint, they are a little more at-risk. It kind of puts us all on our toes.”
Volunteers are also prepared to respond to incidents where athletes are affected by the temperature on race day.
“A few years ago, because of the tides, we had to have the Tri for a Cure at 1 in the afternoon,” she said. “It was incredibly hot. Women were waiting in their wetsuits and getting overheated.”
From year to year the volume of incidents vary, however.
“Last year, the race started at 7:30 a.m. and it was incredibly cool. Because it was so cool and overcast, we had the quietest medical tent we ever had,” Hoffman said.
At least 500 people show up on race day every year to volunteer their time. Hoffman said there are usually several returning volunteers that tell her they want to keep coming back because the Tri is “so heartwarming and so inspiring.”
And because the participants are so emotionally invested in the event, it’s “very exciting to watch,” she said.
Hoffman spoke with Maine Women about the triathlon and what she enjoys about volunteering.
Q: How did you get involved in the Tri, and why?
A: I got involved with the Tri before it was created. My Tri training friends were Abby Bliss and Julie Marchese. They went to Massachusetts for a Danskin all-women’s triathlon and were amazed by how many of the participants were from Maine. They said, “We need an all-women’s triathlon in Maine!” and that is just what they did. I was so impressed by how they coordinated and created such an amazing event. They asked me if I wanted to participate in it or volunteer at it.
Q: In what capacity do you volunteer?
A: I had done triathlons but thought being a part of the team to volunteer and cheer all the athletes on sounded wonderful. They needed medical support for such a large race because they had such a wide range of athletes, in age and experience. My husband is a physician at OA Centers for Orthopaedics. He volunteered to be the medical director and provide the staff and medical supplies. I took on the role as the medical coordinator to organize the medical volunteers.
Q: What do you enjoy about volunteering, and why is it important to you?
A: I was there for the first Tri for a Cure and I got goose bumps when the survivors spoke. To see these women (many of them doing a triathlon for the first time) working so hard for such an important cause is inspiring. Many of them are running for a loved one, a family member or just themselves. They have T-shirts, some have teams, and some wear boas or crowns. And when they cross that finish line, they are all winners. What other type of race can you see so much support, so much happiness and so much determination? I feel fortunate to be a part of something so amazing.
Q: How has it been working with the Maine Cancer Foundation?
A: We have one volunteer meeting at the beginning, and we tell them our needs, including medical needs. Maine Cancer Foundation supplies us with some things, such as tables, chairs and tents. We also do a medical meeting with them, and have a recap the week or two after the race to go over what went well, what didn’t go well, what we can change next year. We’ve had a great experience with them and they’ve always been very appreciative.