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Meet the Volunteers of RacingThePlanet: Namibia 2009


Meet the Volunteers of RacingThePlanet: Namibia 2009

Words: Melanie Ho

Volunteers setting up a tent at training.

Ahead of RacingThePlanet: Namibia 2009, volunteers tell their stories and talk about what’s needed of them.

Tough love.   A steel fist in a velvet glove.   Emphatic encouragement without the coddling that comes along with it.   Whatever the turn of phrase, the volunteers understand what’s needed of them from the competitors.   Two hundred and thirteen competitors in the RacingThePlanet: Namibia 2009 means over two hundred different needs and while the volunteers are up for them all, they also have their own stories to tell.   


With so many of the volunteers and staff having previously competed or volunteered at one of the RacingThePlanet events, there’s a certain sense of understanding, whether it be job duties, tone of voice or how to help and not hinder.   


Tony Brammer, who has physically stamped his 4 Deserts Club participation with a sleeve of RacingThePlanet tattoos on his right bicep, still remembers precisely how a volunteer can make all the difference.   In 2005, during the very first day of the RacingThePlanet: Sahara race, Brammer was moments away from quitting.   The now 52-year old was sweltering in 51 degree weather and as he arrived at a temporary check point, specifically set up to offer shade between the final check point and the stage finish line, and he was ready to quit the race.  One of the race’s volunteers, Cindy Drinnan, encouraged Brammer to stay. 


“She was so sympathetic with myself and always smiling - it’s about having sympathy for your problems without giving you a reason to quit,” Brammer said.  “She helped me motivate myself.  I guess you can say, it’s a steel fist in a velvet glove.”


Since that encounter they have stayed in touch, going to dinner in Manchester with their partners. Today, Brammer understands exactly what the back-of-the-field competitors need.


“It’s empathy for those at the back of the field and knowing that even if they’re not smiling, they’re probably still enjoying themselves,” Brammer said.  “They’re definitely hurting.  While you’re a little bit in awe of those at the front, it’s a very different race at the back and they have different needs.”


Emma Dawber, part of the medical team, expressed a similar sentiment. 


“I know what they’re going through, the mental anguish,” said Dawber, who is participating in her eighth race, having competed in three, volunteered once and worked on the medical team for the fourth time.  “Although maybe sometimes I’m less sympathetic because I’ve done this before.”


But according to Dawber, the experience of volunteering is just as satisfying as competing.


“It’s satisfying to see them get through the race,” Dawber said.  “It’s not just sorting the feet out, but you nurture their psyche as well.”


First-time volunteer Ian Woods sent in his volunteer application six months ago, thinking nothing would come of it.  The Capetown-based doctor was introduced to RacingThePlanet after a friend of his had been a volunteer in a previous race.  Woods has been to Namibia before, but not quite to the places he’ll be seeing on the course.  And while medical team staffer hasn’t previously competed in a RacingThePlanet event, he is the first South African to have conquered Cho Oyo, the world’s sixth highest mountain. 


Woods began climbing at age 40 and in 1995, as he was near the Cho Oyo summit, Woods got frost bite which resulted in one of his fingers being amputated.  The scars demonstrate the at-times cruel nature of sport, but his interest in remote travel has not waned. 


“I try to go somewhere each year and now that I’ve sold my [medical] practice and my daughter is 19, I have the freedom to travel and just go wherever,” said Woods on his desire to volunteer for the RacingThePlanet: Namibia 2009 race.  “And I guess it’s helpful that I know what it’s like to rough it in harsh conditions and in camps.”


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