In the past three decades, staff and students from Dakota Collegiate have made a marathon effort when it comes to volunteering.
Not only does this year mark the 35th anniversary of the Manitoba Marathon, but also the 30th year the St. Vital-based school has sent a team of volunteers to work at the finish line — the latest occasion being last weekend.
Dakota’s math department head, Dean Favoni, said the school now typically sends around 150 volunteers to the annual event held on Father’s Day, which starts and finishes at the University of Manitoba.
The south St. Vital resident, who has himself been involved with the event for the past 22 years, said the school first became involved when a teacher and runner named Jerry Ilchyna found out there was a need for assistance.
"All the work for our volunteers revolves around the finish line," said Favoni, who ran the half-marathon on June 16.
"Before the race, that could mean helping to unpack finisher medals and preparing food and drinks to hand out in the Recovery Zone, which includes water, energy drinks, fruit and yogurt," Favoni said.
But perhaps the biggest job for the volunteers is the role of huggers, when they get to greet the runners after the race and walk with them to make sure they’re OK.
Some may need physical assistance, while others might just require an arm around them as they compose themselves after their gruelling physical adventure.
Favoni said it only takes around three days to fill the sign-up sheet with 150 names once it’s posted at the school.
"It’s a very big part of our school culture and the history of the event is ingrained in the school," Favoni said.
"Part of my goal as a teacher is to get the students involved in volunteering in the future. And once they experience the excitement and emotion of an event like this, I hope their commitment carries on into adult life."
Student Amy Savage, who just volunteered in her sixth Manitoba Marathon, and her fourth with the school, particularly enjoys the interactions and camaraderie with the runners at the finish line.
"I look at it as a two-way street," said Savage, 18, who is set to graduate soon but hopes to stay involved in her volunteering role as a Dakota alumnus.
"The runners appreciate us being there and we appreciate the effort they’re putting in. It’s almost like I feel part of their journey."
The St. Vital resident noted one of the more curious dynamics of being a hugger is the bond that can form in mere seconds.
"Sometimes you get to know a lot about a person in a few seconds — what kind of ambitions they have, how many marathons they’ve run. There can be a personal connection," she said.
When asked about any challenges she’s face in the role, Savage is adamant that nothing she has faced — including torrential rain one year and unexpectedly blistering heat on another occasion — has dampened her spirits when compared to the dedication and perseverance of the competitors.
"I don’t let the weather or my mood affect my performance out on the finish line. The runners have worked hard to get there," she said.
Savage noted the fact the marathon is held on Father’s Day gives the event an added dimension.
"Some people wear T-shirts saying they’re running for their dads or their families, so many families come out to watch. It gives it a real sense of community," she said.
"Even though some of us will be graduating soon, Mr. Favoni says he’ll always find a place for us to volunteer. It’s become a highlight of my school year."