Portrait of An Aid Station: Big Sur's Dedicated Volunteers

Hillary Gibson, Big Sur Marathon
No Source
April 11, 2018

Manned by a core group of dedicated volunteers, the community members who come out to man Aid Station 1 exemplify why the resilience of the Big Sur community is nothing short of inspiring


They’re the first orange-shirted volunteers that Big Sur Marathon runners see as they head toward the coast on Highway 1; the first glimmer of respite from the initial 2.6 miles through the town of Big Sur. Whether you went out too fast, or you’re right on track, the smiling faces at Aid Station 1 are ready to greet you with outstretched arms.


If you’ve never volunteered at an aid station before, you may not be privy to the skill it takes to hand off a wobbly cup to a passing runner. There’s real technique involved (pro tip: hold the cup from the bottom, like you’d hold the stem of a strawberry), and luckily for you, the volunteers at Aid Station 1 have some solid experience under their belts. All of the volunteers are local to the Big Sur coastline, and most have been handing off hydration on the last Sunday in April for the past 10-15 years. They represent a variety of local nonprofits.


“The relationship between the Big Sur community nonprofits and BSIM is special and important,” said Patte Kronlund, who has managed the aid station for over 15 years. “Each volunteer is supporting their own organization and in turn receiving much needed grant dollars to carry out their mission.”


The Big Sur community, while incredibly tight-knit, is nonetheless divided geographically by mountains, ragged coastline, and flowing rivers. Kronlund notes that volunteering not only forges an important connection between locals and visiting runners, but gives her an opportunity to come together with friends and neighbors.


“This is the one time per year where most of the Big Sur nonprofits are volunteering together, so it really is a social event for us,” says Patte, “Before heading out to set up our station, we meet at the River Inn for coffee, doughnuts and a chat, and after the race, we head back there for breakfast with our families.”


Aid Station 1 is charged with the unique challenge of servicing thousands of runners in a very short period of time. Due to the stop’s proximity to the start line, the field hasn’t had a chance to thin out yet, meaning a big rush of thirsty runners all at once. For Kronlund’s team, it’s worth the chaos to greet the runners while they’re fresh and excited for the miles ahead.


“It’s a huge adrenaline rush when we see a crowd of thousands coming toward us around the bend,” said Kronlund. “We always have a ‘freak-out’ moment when we think we’re going to run out of cups, but we always have enough!”


After the surge, the volunteers are able to take a breath and cheer on passing runners, which has become a point of pride for Kronlund and her team. While there’s no “official” race cheer of Aid Station 1 (we asked), each volunteer has their own motivational phrase, and a lot of clapping occurs (especially when they spot a Big Sur local among the crowd).


Big Sur has endured more than its share of natural disasters in recent years. Freshest in mind is the 2017 collapse of Pfeiffer Canyon Bridge and mudslides further south which struck in tandem and stranded residents for weeks. The condemned bridge, which closed mid-February and reopened mid-October, was located south of Aid Station 1 along the course. Still, Kronlund’s team found a way to make it to their usual race day post.


“Many of us live on the south side of what was the collapsed Pfeiffer Canyon Bridge,” explained Kronlund. “For last year’s marathon, we either hiked over the day before and stayed with friends or hiked over very early on race morning to make it to our aid station on time.”


The resilience of the Big Sur community is nothing short of inspiring. For 26.2 miles, you’re invited to experience the dramatic coastline so often described as “magical” and meet some locals along the way. Big Sur evokes an indescribable sense of serenity and strength that is mirrored by its residents. So as you pass Kronlund and her team at Aid Station 1, be reminded of their perseverance and let it fuel your journey up Highway 1. And be sure to thank them well - each outstretched hand belongs to an incredibly dedicated volunteer!

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