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Lavaman Waikoloa’s dedicated volunteers

A volunteer cheers athletes in the LavaKids Aquathon on as she directs them along the course. (PHOTO BY ANNA PACHECO| SPECIAL TO NHN)
A volunteer cheers athletes in the LavaKids Aquathon on as she directs them along the course. (PHOTO BY ANNA PACHECO| SPECIAL TO NHN)
A volunteer passes out water to athletes competing in the Lavaman on Sunday. (PHOTO BY ANNA PACHECO| SPECIAL TO NHN)
A volunteer passes out water to athletes competing in the Lavaman on Sunday. (PHOTO BY ANNA PACHECO| SPECIAL TO NHN)
Volunteer Bette Green stands at the bike station of the Lavaman race on Sunday. (PHOTO BY ANNA PACHECO| SPECIAL TO NHN)
Volunteer Bette Green stands at the bike station of the Lavaman race on Sunday. (PHOTO BY ANNA PACHECO| SPECIAL TO NHN)
Volunteers are responsible for a wide variety of tasks in the Lavaman events, including massage for the LavaKids Aquathon. (PHOTO BY ANNA PACHECO| SPECIAL TO NHN)
Volunteers are responsible for a wide variety of tasks in the Lavaman events, including massage for the LavaKids Aquathon. (PHOTO BY ANNA PACHECO| SPECIAL TO NHN)
Volunteers hand out rubber bands to track the number of laps completed by the participants in the LavaKids Aquathon on Saturday. (PHOTO BY ANNA PACHECO | SPECIAL TO NHN)
Volunteers hand out rubber bands to track the number of laps completed by the participants in the LavaKids Aquathon on Saturday. (PHOTO BY ANNA PACHECO | SPECIAL TO NHN)

The 17th Lavaman Waikoloa Triathlon at Waikoloa on Sunday, March 30, drew more than 1,400 participants. Race Director Gerry Rott said the 1.5k swim, 40k bike and 10k run is very popular, especially for entry level competitors, and though 1,600 people signed up, it sold out early.

But a large, successful event cannot take place without the people who volunteer to assist, direct, coordinate and show up.

“It’s hard for me to believe how much the volunteers do,” Rott said. “It wouldn’t be a race without them.”

Rott said she started the Lavaman Race in 1997 when she owned a bike shop, and 83 people competed. It has grown exponentially each year, she said, and continues to be successful.

“What was once a hobby has become a business,” said Rott, who said she still has a day job. “But I love doing this and I’m proud of what it has become.”

Jane Bockus is the race director for the Ultraman World Championships that occur here over Thanksgiving. Each year, she and Rott help each other with the organization of their respective events. This year, Bockus pulled together more than 100 volunteers from the Keauhou Canoe Club to help out.

“As a volunteer for this event, we love to help first-time racers achieve their goal,” Bockus said. “We have a great core of volunteers who help out with everything from race packets, registration, body marking, aid stations and recycling.”

Bockus also said the Lavaman has become a huge fundraiser, and has raised more than $1.4 million for Leukemia and Lymphoma research.

In her third year of volunteering, Honokaa 11th grade student KaMele Sanchez said she asked six other students to work at the Lavaman merchandise and retail store during the race.

“At first some of my friends said, ‘Oh, not community service,’ but then they had a great time,” said Sanchez. “I liked working with the athletes who were super friendly. We worked really hard but it was fun.”

Sanchez said she volunteers because it is a learning experience, and said it also adds credit to her college application.

With any race, a medical team must be present for potential injuries or accidents. Dr. Elizabeth Groshong, who works at both North Hawaii Community Hospital and Kona Hospital, said they put together a team of 50 medical volunteers to help.

“The hardest part in getting ready for the Lavaman is preparing and getting supplies ready,” Groshong said. “The day of the race goes quite smoothly.”

On Sunday, there were only four incidents that happened all at the same time, Groshong said. Otherwise, no one got really injured.

“I always say I love Gerry (Rott) and what she does for our community, non-profits, and charities,” said Groshong. “This is the main reason why we all continue to help out with the Lavaman race.”

Jim Albone, who volunteers at the Lavaman, Honu and Ironman, said he has been working at these events for more than 13 years now.

“I do it to be involved and give back to the community,” Albone said. “The Waikoloa Canoe Club raises funds for us, and we help put canoes, paddlers and boarders into the ocean for the water rescue team. These are enthused people and this year’s race was organized and mellow.”

Rott said three-quarters of the volunteers are from Hawaii Island, and the remainder are families and friends of the triathletes. She is proud of the fact that many of those who help out are youth groups who take donations for their teams.

“Later, the kids come back and participate in the race,” Rott said. “We’re proud of that.”