‘It’s the people I enjoy’: Why Peachtree volunteers keep coming back

Volunteers hand out beverages at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution Peachtree Road Race. (Courtesy of the Atlanta Track Club)

Credit: Atlanta Track Club

Credit: Atlanta Track Club

Volunteers hand out beverages at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution Peachtree Road Race. (Courtesy of the Atlanta Track Club)

On July 4, 1973, a director of the Peachtree Road Race handed Bill Royston a notepad and a pencil, thus minting him a new volunteer at the still-fledgling event. Though much about the race has changed in the 50 years since that day — its size, its route, its T-shirt fanaticism — Royston is still volunteering, along with around 4,000 others.

Of those 4,000 volunteers, many return to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution Peachtree Road Race year after year. Royston, now 76, first became involved with the race to maintain his health. He keeps coming both because it keeps him active and connects him to others.

“There’s a lot of happy people. It is hot and you get tired, but everybody’s having a good time,” Royston said. “I just like being around that type of person.”

Other longtime volunteers echoed that sentiment, including Mary Reed, 72, who first offered to help in 1978 after having run in the race for a few years. Participating in the 10K became an annual mother-daughter activity, as Reed and her mom continued to work at and run in the Peachtree together until Reed’s mother was in her 80s.

“It was great fun to do with my mom,” Reed said, recalling that the two would volunteer at the starting line together. “She always wanted somebody with her. She was a little nervous with the crowds and everything.”

Volunteers at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution Peachtree Road Race help hang the American flag. (Courtesy of Atlanta Track Club)

Credit: Atlanta Track Club

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Credit: Atlanta Track Club

Reed, however, did not only provide support to her mom, but also to runners. Volunteers, she explained, act as guides, for they are uniquely situated to calm participants’ anxieties.

“You feel like you have eased somebody’s fears, you have helped them in some way,” she said.

Dwight Hughes, now in his 23rd year of volunteering, is likewise grateful for and energized by the opportunity to motivate runners.

“At the end of the race, the people appreciate us,” he said. “As a volunteer, I feel it is my duty to make sure that the runners are safe and that we provide the best customer service to them.”

The focus on service resonates also with John Prevost, who has been volunteering for more than 20 years and noted that the willingness to help is what keeps the race accessible.

“Somebody has got to do these jobs. It would be $500 to register to be in the Peachtree if everybody got paid,” he said. “If thousands didn’t volunteer — and I am just one of thousands — then it wouldn’t happen.”

John Prevost, wearing a black T-shirt on the right, stands with other volunteers at a water station in 2017 at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution Peachtree Road Race. (Courtesy of John Prevost)

Credit: John Prevost

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Credit: John Prevost

Both Royston and Hughes have become friends with fellow volunteers, and Hughes noted that “it’s the people I enjoy … The people that I work with and volunteer with always put a smile on my face, so I try and put a smile on their face.”

And though the volunteer community technically stands on the sidelines, they are far from invisible. While runners receive the famed T-shirt, volunteers receive their own, perhaps even more coveted top.

Bob DeLorme knit some of his Peachtree Road Race volunteer shirts into a quilt, along with other mementos. (Courtesy of Bob DeLorme)

Credit: Bob DeLorme

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Credit: Bob DeLorme

Royston still has all 50 of his volunteer shirts, though he admitted that some are fairly worn out. Hughes can’t choose a favorite among his many. And Bob DeLorme, who has volunteered for 34 years, has incorporated some of his prized T-shirts into a quilt. He recalled that past runners even have tried to trade him their Peachtree Road Race shirt for his volunteer one.

“I said, ‘No, this is my volunteer shirt! This is my badge. This is my hard work!’” he said. ”'You have yours and I’m keeping mine.’”

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Credit: Jason Getz

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