Volunteers Pave the Way
Annual race a success because of residents donating time and energy

LAWRENCEVILLE - Mill Creek cross country and track coach Tom Kutter remembers vividly his half marathon victory at the Run the Reagan road race two years ago. It's hard to forget something you win, but for Kutter the date is even more significant because it also serves as his wedding anniversary.

After the race, Kutter got engaged to his wife that night.

"It was a good year," he said with a chuckle. "It's one of my favorite races. It's different from most road races."

That is part of the race's draw.

For starters, Ronald Reagan Parkway will be closed to traffic from 2 a.m. Saturday until 2 p.m. after the race is concluded. Another difference for the event, now in its fourth year after being resurrected, is that the race is staffed entirely by volunteers, some of whom started preparing for the President's Day weekend event back in August.

On Friday, the day before the event begins, some volunteers will spend all night preparing for the participants' arrival early Saturday morning. According to race director Skip Breeser, whom the Reagan staff has hired to make sure the event goes smoothly, without volunteers the race wouldn't be possible.

"Volunteers are a necessity," Breeser said. "Without volunteers these things don't happen because you couldn't pay enough people to put one of these things on. Between the two charities who benefit from the race, they will have somewhere in the neighborhood of 250 volunteers present. It really is a different animal."

A majority of the volunteers are supporters of the two charities the race benefits - The Gwinnett Community Clinic and Young Life. The clinic offers medical services to county residents in need and Young Life is a faith-based group that tackles social problems faced by teens.

According to Parks Mann, who has been involved with the clinic since it first opened in 1989 and is volunteering in his 14th race, last year the two charities each received $30,000 as a result of the event.

"Persistence has made this race a success, and we try to make it fun for our volunteers," Mann said. "We've worked hard to provide the runners with the things they need to have a quality event."

Those things include fruit, bananas, apples, Power Bars, water, massages and a family area for kids to play in. Mann said it's almost as if the parkway is turned into a park for the day. He also said the volunteers are responsible for providing medical assistance, directing parking, timing splits for the runners and passing out food and drinks to runners.

"It's a big job," Mann said. "And one of the reasons the runners like this race is because we have the volunteers to pull it off."

Kutter agreed. "When you make the turn and you're coming back and you hit the groups of people who are lining the road and cheering and playing music, it makes a huge difference," he said.

And making a difference in the community is why volunteer Kim Maddox, who will direct operations in the fun area, got involved last year.

"It's not just a race," Maddox said. "It's a family event that brings people together to help two causes. And it's a good thing to get people involved and to lead by example for our kids. I mean, if we don't do it, then why should our kids do it?"

On race day, with the number of participants expected to be between 2,500 to 3,000, the working volunteers will be wearing special-colored long sleeve T-shirts so people won't have any trouble finding them. These folks have made the Reagan what it's become - the largest road race in Gwinnett County that has grown from 800 runners in its first year.

"We've all grown together in doing this and know we have the people who can help make it come together," Mann said. "And it seems each year we get a little better."

For more information or to register for the race before Wednesday, visit www.RuntheReagan.com or pick up an entry form at your local Walgreens or library, or the county's parks and recreation department.

SideBar: If You Go

What: Run the Reagan road race

When: Saturday

Where: Presidential Market, near Emory Eastside Hospital

Start times:

8 a.m., Half Marathon

8:15 a.m., 10K

9:30 a.m., 1-Mile Fun Run

10:00 a.m., 5K Run/Walk

More info: www.RuntheReagan.com