Ironman volunteers well-suited to keep triathletes on course

Nowhere is the volunteer spirit more infectious than at the peeler party.

Three dozen men and women stood in a semicircle Sunday morning, eagerly awaiting the waves of soaked Ironman athletes to emerge from a choppy Lake Coeur d’Alene.

The flurry of action kicked in around 7:40 a.m. as scores of competitors began running up from City Beach to the transition area between the swim and bike portions of the triathlon. The volunteers greeted them on the grass of City Park to peel off the wetsuits and send them on their way.

It’s more a mugging than striptease, but peeler captain Val Kuntz said there’s definitely an art to the task.

“The neck, arms, shoulders – take those off, get it down to their hips, have them lay down on the ground, and then you work it off the hips, the legs and the ankles,” explained Kuntz, who has volunteered each year since Ironman came to Coeur d’Alene in 2003. “And just be careful of all body parts.”

Susan Roeder, a nurse from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, joined the peeler crew this year. She was in town to cheer on her sister, a competitor from Nashville, Tennessee, and to lend a hand, including handing out medals later in the day.

“I’m more excited as a volunteer than I was as an athlete,” said Roeder, who finished a half Ironman in 2012. That experience gave her an idea of what the swimmers need.

“The wetsuits are extremely tight, like they are sucked down to their body,” she said. “When they come out of the water, especially after swimming 2 ½ miles, sometimes they’re a little dizzy, a little lightheaded, legs cramping.”

Volunteers are out in force well before the race starts. Keith Appleton, of Spokane, was there with his fiancée at 4 a.m. Their job was to write racer numbers on the athletes’ arms using black markers. They also wrote each competitor’s age on his or her left calf.

“We heard that this was the best task because it was so early in the morning that you had the whole day to be able to actually watch,” said Appleton, who works at STCU.

His crew tried to make the moment cheerful as the athletes checked in. “They’re so in the mode right now, it’s been fun to get people to smile once,” he said.

Appleton also was trying to write around the more permanent ink on arms.

“There’s a lot of tattoos, so I ask racers if they want me to try to go around their tattoos or go right over the top,” he said. “Some of them are die-hards and they don’t care.”

Lori Edelblute, of Coeur d’Alene, volunteered along others representing the wrestling team of Lakeland High School in Rathdrum, collecting athletes’ morning gear bags. She has helped out at Ironman for seven years.

“The enthusiasm of athletes – they just motivate you,” she said.

Edelblute was assisted Sunday by her daughter Kirstyn, 8, who has participated in two mini-triathlons. “She’s very enthusiastic. She enjoys it.”

More than 3,600 volunteers signed up to help with the race this year, Ironman volunteer director Dani Zibell-Wolfe said.

“There’s such a vibe to these events, and people look forward to it year after year,” she said.

When Ironman falls on the same weekend as Hoopfest in Spokane, as happened this year, the volunteer pool is tapped out.

“What a great place to live where we get so many volunteers,” Zibell-Wolfe said.

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