Running the race as a volunteer

Volunteer Rocky Vitali keeps 5,000 participants in line before the race begins.

by Stacy

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCIV) -- When I moved to Charleston in October, I immediately started fielding questions regarding the Bridge Run, and whether I was going to do it. People warned me to sign up early; they said the entry price would increase and it may reach its limit for participants.

But for Rocky Vitali, Thursday, April 4 was the ideal day to sign up. He had planned to take a trip to Atlanta for the weekend, but backed out at the last minute. So for the second year in a row, Vitali decided to volunteer for the Cooper River Bridge Run. He called MUSC, and they were happy to have him as a volunteer. That way, he also got to run the race.

"Last year I had just moved here two weeks prior. I didn't know anything about the race. I heard through a friend to try volunteering, so this year I thought I'd do it again," Vitali said.

Still, he said he runs often and had trained for the race. He wanted to beat his time from last year.

"Even as a volunteer, it'll be the same as it would as a runner," he said.

The volunteering duties were simple, Vitali said. He saw it as an easy and free way in to the race.

Vitali arrived at 5:30 a.m. Saturday for volunteer training for a half hour, before participants arrived at 6. He said this year's training went more smoothly than 2012.

"We got our signs right away and they were ready to go," he said. "No one was confused like last year."

Vitali's volunteer duties included getting people pumped for the race, which in turn gets his own adrenaline going, he said. He had to preside over a group of runners to keep them in place until they could start.

"I work the red quadrant. They are over-an-hour [runners]. So you make sure the over-an-hour people are in the right group, the walkers are in the right group. I just get everyone organized because as soon as 8 o'clock hits, they want the race to start.

"You need to bring people forward because if people aren't in position, it screws up everyone behind you and behind you. I think there are 16 waves and I'm in charge of making sure the right wave is up at the line," he said.

Vitali said each quadrant had about 5,000 people.

"I turned my sign and 5,000 people go. It's a great energy," he said. "You're in front of 20,000 people and behind 20,000 people and you're in charge of making sure that is all in sync. It's cool to know you play a small role in ensuring this huge event works."

Other Cooper River Bridge Run volunteers have different duties. Some give out water during the race and some wait in Marion Square to help the finishers take advantage of food and prizes. But, Vitali said he would only do his role because it awards him the grand prize: getting to run the race himself, along side the 40,000 other participants.