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Volunteering can give you a Warm Fuzzy


18 March 2009

There are a lot of Left and Right turns on the annual 55km Gear Up Girl ride from Cronulla to Sydney Olympic Park, held annually in early Fall. And a busy Parramatta Rd to cross.

Casual empiricism suggests the most frequent age of ride participants is about 19. ‘Ipso facto’, there isn’t a lot of ‘road cycling savvy’ amongst some of the ‘all female’ riders. But lots of enthusiasm to complete and enjoy, and benefit from the 55km ostensibly off-road challenge.

Yes, it is a challenge for lots, with many of the girls riding heavy mountain bikes, with ‘big knobbly tyres’, whereupon their bikes didn’t weigh much less than ‘the bod on top’.

Phil Johnston has administered Muggaccinos BUG 100km Sunday rides for yonks. Hence, when BNSW asked if he would step-up from a Route Marshal to be a Team Leader of a section of the ride route, responsible for 8 Route Marshals, on the recent Gear Up Girl ride, Phil accepted the invitation with fervour.

BNSW provides a plethora of vital volunteer information/intelligence, including listing the duties of each Team Leader and Route Marshal, together with a kit bag for each volunteer full of practical aids such as a hat, sunscreen, “Gear Up Girl Volunteer T-Shirt”, snack bar, ‘bidon’, drinks and bright yellow security vest. Volunteers also receive a humongous lunch delivered to them mid-morning, because ‘an army marches on its stomach’.

The 55km route is broken down into 9 Sectors, referred to as ‘Sector A’ which begins at the Cronulla start through to ‘Sector I’ which ends at the finish at Blaxland Riverside Park near The Armoury.

Whilst only 3.45km, Phil’s Sector G included several twists and turns and a crossing of the “consistently busy” Parramatta Rd. The dedicated Route Map identified 9 vital points to position a Route Marshal, numbered 1 to 9, with 1 being the most vital intersection and 9 the least crucial junction.

Cognisant of his inherent ‘duty of care’ to each participant cyclist, as well as to his 8 Route Marshals and BNSW, Phil spent a few hours on a day leading up to the Saturday Gear Up Girl ride to –

(i) familiarise himself with his 3.45km Sector G, and

(ii) take pics of vital turns and cross streets.

He also phoned each of his 8 Route Marshals, a few days before, to introduce himself and confirm their attendance at the designated meeting spot.

BNSW’s instructions stipulated that the Team Leader for Sector G be at Melville Park, Homebush at 7:30am on Ride Day, which turned out to be “a corker of an early Autumn morn”. Phil’s 8 ‘Chargers’ were scheduled to be there 15 mins later. However, 6 of them were “front ‘n' centre” when Phil arrived at 7:30am. His two other Route Marshals arrived within the next few minutes, well in advance of their designated ‘be there' time.

One of them, David, announced that he had previously manned the vital crossing of Parramatta Rd which requires one volunteer stationed 50m prior to the Parramatta Rd crossing to divert all cyclists onto the footpath and another volunteer at the traffic lights to ensure they only cycled across when the ‘Walk’ sign was green, because the route required cyclists to proceed straight ahead, whereas the car traffic lights were set for all motorists to either turn L or R.

By 8am, Phil reported on his ‘Two-Way’ radio back to Events Director Donna that Sector G was fully manned. Throughout the morning Phil on his ‘Two-Way’ regularly heard Donna, Tony, Nat, and Richard monitoring the ride. They were the epitomy of experience, route knowledge and self-confidence.

Phil introduced himself to two traffic police who provided the cyclists priority access where Mitchell Rd meets Arthur St at the start of Sector G. The two fit looking Officers were part of the NSW Police Bike Patrol, and were well equipped with hybrid bikes.

The first girls began pedalling through Sector G approaching 9am. Around 11:40am, Nat, The Sweep, informed my 8 Route Marshals that they could “leave their posts”.

Phil had volunteered as a Route Marshal on a few Spring Cycles and Gear Up Girls where the reward is receiving a zillion big smiles and “Thank you’s” from passing cyclists, plus fostering community involvement.

However, the satisfaction of meeting and getting to know his 8 volunteer Route Marshals, plus being associated with BNSW’s highly proficient Events Management Team, outweighed the fulfilment of his previous Route Marshal role.

His 8 Route Marshals each had interesting stories to tell. Albert had volunteered for a plethora of community events including several Sydney Marathons. Des recently came out of hospital and “welcomed some action”. Danilo would soon be heading off to Warren to install infrastructure for Big Pond. Max’s son went to school at nearby Homebush Boys High. Jean, a fellow Muggaccinos cyclist, was keen to again scale Yarramundi Hill from Richmond up to Springwood the following day. Gordon has recently returned from teaching English in Poland to marry. His wife was a participant in the event, and asked Gordon to “…...make yourself useful. Be a good chap and nominate as a volunteer.” Megan is an active member of Bike North with a potent conviction to assisting the community.

But the most colourful award goes to David who readily ‘stepped up to the plate’ to ‘for the 2nd year in a row’ supervise the crossing of busy Parramatta Rd, which Phil opted this year to assign a 2nd Route Marshal to assist. David jokingly said, “Skipper, I’ve volunteered 13 times before and never received a special commendation.” Phil retorted, “David, you will be getting one this time.”

The next day, Phil and Jean, together with 5 other Muggaccinos cyclists rode 126km anti-clockwise loop of Greater Sydney, commencing from Turramurra to Windsor, Richmond, Springwood, Penrith (train to Seven Hills) then cycled M2 back to Turramurra.

Phil will be volunteering for future BNSW events as a Team Leader because assisting new cyclists complete challenging ‘Ice Breakers’ like the Spring Cycle and Gear Up Girl provides invaluable cycling confidence. It can also lead to taking on bigger challenges such as cycling over the Pyrénées or much higher mountains in scenic lands like Colorado and Nevada. As well as peeling off a ‘hundred plus clicks’ each weekend to stay in shape (provided by some of the BUGs), in the process seeing unfamiliar countryside, visiting a myriad of cafes on Sydney’s perimeter and meeting fit, friendly people.

‘Ice Breaker’ rides also assist develop confidence to commute to/from work, but definitely not on roads like the Pacific Highway or Pennant Hills Rd during peak hours which presently is cycling lunacy.

The busy Parramatta Road crossing was ably manned by Route Marshall David

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