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Volunteers keep racers safe during Peaks to Prairie

Volunteers keep racers safe during Peaks to Prairie

  • Updated

He's one of the shortest volunteers on the raceway, but with the loudest voice.

"You might want to start warming up. We've got 10 minutes until the start of the race," Peter Thompson said through a megaphone.

The boy was trying to round up a hundred or so racers ready to participate in the 33rd annual Peaks to Prairie Adventure Race on Sunday.

If the megaphone didn't get their attention, the shot from his starting gun did as racers made their way down Highway 12. But they weren't alone. Each year about 150 volunteers step up to keep the race organized and, above all, safe.

Keeping a watchful eye over the participants were members of the Yellowstone Radio Club, a group of amateur radio operators who come out each year help better communications during the race.

"We take suggestions every year and work to make it a better race for participants and for the people trying to control the chaos," said Todd Gansel of the YRC.

Gansel has volunteered his time with the race for the past 10 years. He and 37 other amateur radio operators were scattered throughout the transition points and along the raceway, giving updates on racers' progress.

Radio operators call in to each checkpoint as racers get close. For the end of the running portion, operators were set up a mile from the finish line.

They were set up 3 miles outside finish line for bikers, and Gansel was set up at the last curve of the Yellowstone River toward the beginning of Coulson Park to notify the finish line.

"For years we've been the only safety net for the contestants," Gansel said.

In addition, one volunteer led the pack of runners and bicyclists on the roadway, followed by another at the rear.

Operators are also positioned at five checkpoints along the almost 75-mile race route.

When it comes to the water, another group of volunteers steps in. Members of the nonprofit U.S. Water Rescue Dive Team out of Billings have brought along a speedboat and several divers to the race for the past six years to keep the paddlers safe.

Dive officer Shane Weinreis said they drive the speedboat up and down the river once or twice during the race. They also help racers out of their kayaks or canoes.

"They are tired and moving slow at that point, and we make sure they are doing OK," Weinreis said. "A couple times people have capsized their boat further upstream and were unable to catch up, leaving them stranded."

Weinreis said in the past six years of volunteering, there has yet to be a life-or-death situation on the water.

"Most of the time it's just helping them back to shore and catching capsized boats," he said. "After a full day of racing, they are exhausted."




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