OGDEN -- Volunteering at the Ogden marathon usually involves filling cups, handing out fruit, pointing to the porta-potties, yelling a few encouraging words, and maybe rubbing a leg or foot. Caring for the first, middle and last runners can be almost as exhausting as running the actual race.
Last Saturday, two aid station volunteers went beyond their exhaustion, not only caring for all the runners, but actually completing the final six miles of the race in support of the last finisher.
As the Mile 20 aide station workers were cleaning up, a woman runner staggered in. Heather Paolini was the last runner on the course, and she collapsed into AnnMarie Hale's arms and began sobbing. Hale had been at the Stevens-Henager College sponsored aid station since 5 a.m., working with her sister and the site coordinator, Natalie Hale.
"I was helping clean up when a volunteer from the previous aid station walked down with her," said Natalie. "She just collapsed. She fell into AnnMarie's arms. The other volunteer told AnnMarie that she (Paolini) had thrown up and was feeling pretty bad about herself, saying she couldn't go on and that she was a failure."
AnnMarie gave Paolini a hug, let her cry on her shoulder and sat her down. Paolini had reached a low point and was ready to give up.
"I started out the race normal, ready for a good time with high energy and prepared for the day," said Paolini, who had driven from San Jose, Calif., to complete her first marathon and visit with family in Logan. "I felt mentally prepared to complete 26 miles. I'd prepared physically over the last few months, but at mile five or so I started getting sick."
Paolini had pushed on, determined to reach her goal, but at Mile 20, in front of the Oaks restaurant, she was ready to give up.
"I just fell apart," said Paolini. "I said, 'I can't do this. I can't go on.' Exhaustion had set in at that time. I just started to bawl, more for the fact that I wasn't going to finish. It was something I had set out to do months ago. It was months of preparation and planning, months of getting myself ready physically and mentally. I just fell apart."
Once Natalie and AnnMarie got her to sit down, more volunteers came over to see what they could do. Nichole Scott, a pharmacy tech and medical assistant student at Stevens-Henager had become the designated calf-rubber throughout the morning and she rubbed some ointment on Paolini's legs.
"She was so upset because she came from California to run this race, and within the first miles she had gotten sick and thrown up and thrown up right before she got to our point," said Scott. "She said, 'I just wanted to finish the race. I want my medal. I want my family to be proud of me.' So I said, 'If you want to finish it, I'll finish it with you. If that's what you want to do, let's do it.' "
With Scott carrying her pack and another aid station volunteer, Teresa Palacios, walking by her side, Paolini headed down the canyon.
"That gave me enough of a boost to go on," said Paolini of Scott's offer to walk with her. "Without her I wouldn't have finished. Without the people that were at Mile 20 I wouldn't have finished. She walked the last 6.2 miles down the mountain with me and kept me focused on what I was there to do. She talked to me about my family and everything else."
Scott didn't think twice about helping out Paolini, even without proper shoes, and not knowing her.
"I wanted her to finish it, and there was no way she was going to do it by herself. She wanted to show her girls that she could do it. I honestly don't know what made me decide to do it. I was hurting the next day," said Scott laughing. "I have no regrets. And she finished."
As Paolini got nearer the finish line, a finishing entourage began to form. The bicycle policemen who had monitored the course came behind her and encouraged her, and her family and friends joined her as she crossed, finishing in 7:05.42.
"When I crossed the finish line, I felt utter amazement," said Paolini. "I couldn't believe I finished."
Paolini said she couldn't say enough about the volunteers.
"People do really care; there are people out there that really care about others," said Paolini. "I knew that, but to really see it in action is another thing. These ladies were strangers. I never met them before and for them to say, 'I will do this with you,' that's a long ways to go for somebody else. To me it was just amazing."