Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

The First Big Feat? Getting the Event Set

Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

The First Big Feat? Getting the Event Set

Article excerpt


A new set of Olympic-grade starting blocks was installed in late May at the Sarasota YMCA's Selby Aquatic Center pool.

The job was both strenuous and required precision, but it had to be exact for the 2013 Pan-American Masters Championship, which kicked off at the Potter Park complex on June 1.

Organizers contend the effort to put in the new Myrtha Pools' start system, which matches another set at the YMCA's 50-meter pool, will be worth it, though, because it should generate some very fast heats at the championship being held in the U.S. for the first time.

The starting blocks represent just one piece of a larger logistical challenge associated with the Pan-Am competition, which is bringing more than 1,500 swimmers and even more spectators and coaches to the area.

It is a challenge that is constantly evolving and made more complicated because it is being executed largely by volunteers.

Mostly, they are hoping to avoid making waves during the 10-day event, which kicked off with three days of synchronized swimming and ends with an open-water swim in the Gulf of Mexico on June 13.

There are multiple groups involved, but Sarasota Sharks Masters team coach Rick Walker is in charge. Luckily for him, one of his swimmers -- Rachel Bowman -- has a resume in corporate event planning.

She has become the "go-to" person for the roughly 400 volunteers involved.

Even now, said Bowman, she needs more volunteers to help with parking, and deck marshals "to ensure that random people aren't getting on the pool deck."

"There's no position that is trivial," said Bowman. "Each job is essential to ensuring that everything is run smoothly and seamlessly."

The details, perhaps not surprisingly, are endless.

Organizers grappled with everything from where swimmers would warm up to how to transport athletes -- many of whom are from other countries and may not speak English -- to the YMCA's Potter Park complex.

To solve the warm-up issue, other local pool managers were enlisted. Maps were uploaded to the Internet. Schedules were posted.

To solve the riddle of where everyone would stay, hotels in about a five-mile radius of the Potter Park YMCA were contacted and blocks of rooms reserved.

A small army of interpreters were amassed, along with small mountains of food and beverages for volunteers.

To identify the event's helpers, Bowman ordered wrist bands for 400 volunteers, so that they can get quick access to areas that are off-limits to the public, such as the pool deck and the volunteer food and water supply depot.

To keep track of the volunteers' contact info, skill sets, and availability, Bowman used a Web-based sign-up program, accessible to volunteers through the main site for the event,

Bowman also compiled detailed job descriptions for volunteers, so that each would know exactly what their job entailed, including how to handle contingencies, plus basics on where to park and what time to show up. …

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