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The Competitor-Turned-Volunteer

We had four former competitors join us as volunteers this year in Jordan, and on the last night of the race they sat down with Event Manager Alina Brown for a discussion about the experience. The volunteers included Lucy Rivers Bulkeley, who did the 4 Deserts Grand Slam in 2010 after having already completed various 4 Deserts events; Alan Braithwaite, who finished the Atacama Crossing 2010; and Ralph Crowley, who finished the Sahara Race 2010 and the Atacama Crossing 2011.

Alina: So, Lucy, competitor Brian Lang just went out of his way to say thank you for something that you did for him on the long stage. What was that about?

Lucy: It was just to say thank you for looking after him and giving advice at Checkpoint 6 when he wasn’t feeling good.  I told him he should have a lie down, get more fluids in, have some noodles, and rest.  And that was it. He was thinking he would have to sleep [at the checkpoint] overnight, which for a top 20 contender is not the norm–they’re normally in and out very quickly.

Alina: He seemed very grateful.

Lucy: Yes, but it wasn’t a big deal.

Alina: So tell me a bit more a bit about your background with RacingThePlanet.

Lucy: I did the Sahara Race 2008 as a “one-off,” theoretically, with my sister in memory of my father.  I crossed the finish line and said “never again” and then went on to do the Atacama Crossing 2009.  I tore my meniscus on the salt flats so I decided to go back in the following year and do to Grand Slam [all 4 Deserts in one calendar year].

Alina: Why?

Lucy: Because Mary told me that no girl had done it before! I was going to do the Atacama Crossing and Gobi March anyway, and then so I decided to go for the Grand Slam instead.

Alina: Alan, tell me why and how you decided to do the Atacama Crossing last year.

Alan: Well, what happened was that my friend and I needed a new challenge and whilst in the pub—as you do over a couple of beers—we decided that we would do something challenging. We had a week to do research and the next Tuesday night on TV was the Atacama Desert Challenge [TV show featuring a past competitor in the Atacama Crossing] and we watched that and rang each other up and decided to do the Atacama.  [Lucy yawns] Am I boring you, Lucy? [Everyone laughs]

Alina: And how was it?

Alan: Really enjoyable, actually. It was a good challenge, I just really enjoyed it–snowcapped mountains, loved it all, remembering the big sand dunes. The salt flats were really tough—that’s where my blisters came from. But I really, really enjoyed it, it was a really good challenge. For anyone looking to do something a bit different, this is something different.

Alina: You proposed to your girlfriend, Emily, after the event last year at the Awards Ceremony?

Alan: Emily and I had been together about five years. And I knew it [the engagement] was coming but hadn’t really decided–I was planning to do it at the Proclaimers gig but they had cancelled gigging for a couple of years.  So I was wondering where to do it that was exotic… I was chatting with the guys during the race and thought about it doing it on the finish line and thought that was too cliché.

So at the evening meal [at the Awards Banquet], after a couple of celebration “sherbets,” I thought, “why not?”  So I texted her dad—on a landline in the UK where a computer voice reads the text out loud.  So it said, “Sam, this is Alan. I want to marry your daughter.”  And he called back and said, “Yeah, go ahead.” I didn’t have a ring because it was spur of the moment. I just kind of proposed… and we drunk champagne and I remember it being a long night.” I only found out on this race [in Jordan] that she was actually expecting me to propose on the finish line!

Alina: What about you, Ralph?

Ralph: I did the Sahara Race 2010 first. I found an article on ESPN about George Chmiel and I just thought it looked absolutely ridiculous, so I signed up. It was the first one I saw–I had never heard of anything like it before. I was probably one of the most unprepared people for the race out there. I read everyone’s blog, but I had issues with my food, with the sand, with my kit, with pacing myself. I was one of the stupid twenty-something-year-olds on the race–everything went wrong right off the bat. Lucy found me a blinking red light–Lucy was the first person that I met out here.

Alan: I’m sorry about that.

Lucy: It got worse!

Ralph: Remember the engaged couple? They brought pots and pans… so maybe I wasn’t the most unprepared one during the race. You put all the rookies in the same tent just unprepared and then had Emma in the tent leading all of us!

Alina: What made you all decide to volunteer in Jordan?

Lucy: I was meant to be taking part, but my broken leg didn’t heal in the time and my flights were already booked so I wanted to see what it was like on the other side.

Alina: What happened with your leg?

Lucy: I broke my tibia riding a horse. I wasn’t disappointed to be a volunteer, but I was disappointed not to be taking part. Every day when I saw the competitors start, I wanted to be doing it.

Alina: Alan – how did you get to be a volunteer at this race?

Alan: Emily was a volunteer at the Atacama Crossing 2011 and got on really well with two of the other volunteers–they  decided that they wanted to do Jordan 2012. I was like, “Well, that’s cool I’ll do it as well.”  And Emily said, “If you do this you’ll make it about yourself.  So, I said, “fair enough.”  But I also saw that she had a great time as a volunteer, and I saw that you meet a lot of people as a volunteer. I’ve definitely met more people at this one [Jordan] than the last one [Atacama Crossing].  I was close with my tent group, but here you meet absolutely everyone, which is kind of cool.  And being a gear freak, scrutinizing is amazing… picking up tips. Food is where I am getting it wrong.

Alina: What do you like about being a volunteer?

Alan: Because I’m more extroverted, I enjoy meeting lots of people.  Genuinely, I quite like getting these people through the race. And I also like when a runner says to you, “Thank you for being out here at this time.”  And you get that more than once. And I think, “I’m not just a person in a crappy t-shirt.”

Ralph: You should make an unedited version of this story. [Everyone laughs]

Alina: And what about you, Ralph?  What have you enjoyed about being a volunteer?

Ralph: I would say the same thing. Getting people through the course. There were 4 volunteers from Atacama that were out there competing, so it was kind of flipping the script and being there to help them as opposed to the other way around.  So being able to repay the favor.  And it was a lot nicer seeing the course without having to run it.

Lucy: I really enjoyed seeing my fellow competitors at the checkpoints.  A lot of them are a lot faster than me, so it was nice to see them without carrying my rucksack into the finish line.  And I enjoyed sweeping while actually getting to see the course.  I really enjoyed that.

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