AJC Peachtree Road Race calls on extra effort from volunteers, public employees

Alpharetta resident Dionne Burton (handing out a water bottle to the woman in the red tanktop) volunteered to serve runners and walkers on both days of the AJC Peachtree Road Race. “I thought it’d be good for me to be here both days, and I love volunteer work,” Burton said. “I absolutely love it.” The photo was taken on July 4, 2021. (AJC photo by Ken Sugiura)

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Alpharetta resident Dionne Burton (handing out a water bottle to the woman in the red tanktop) volunteered to serve runners and walkers on both days of the AJC Peachtree Road Race. “I thought it’d be good for me to be here both days, and I love volunteer work,” Burton said. “I absolutely love it.” The photo was taken on July 4, 2021. (AJC photo by Ken Sugiura)

William Robinson stood by the side of Peachtree Road in Buckhead, a clear garbage bag in one hand and a trash picker in the other. Runners and walkers in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution Road Race streamed past him, headed south for the finish line on 10th Street.

It was about 8:45 a.m. Sunday. Robinson had been at the course since about midnight, he said, and would remain until about noon. Most days, he helps keep Atlanta clean in his work on a city garbage truck. On Sunday, duty called him to keep a segment of the Peachtree course – near the intersection of Peachtree and Lindbergh Drive – free of debris. It was his second consecutive day on that 12-hour shift, as the Peachtree broke with form and spread out the world’s largest 10-kilometer race over two days to enable participants to be distanced.

“Thank you, sir,” a woman runner said to Robinson as she dropped off her trash in his bag.

“You’re welcome, ma’am,” he replied.

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Robinson, 58, is a Peachtree veteran in his own right, having served at more than 20 of the races for the city. His job was different this year, as runners and walkers were given water in plastic bottles rather than in paper cups as a COVID-19 precaution. Robinson was there to collect bottles (as well as empty beer cans consumed by the more bacchanalian Peachtree participants) for recycling. At that point, he had filled four bags.

He was receiving overtime pay for his labors. But the pride he took in his job spoke to his professionalism and duty.

“You see how clean the street looks?” he asked, and his section of Peachtree indeed appeared to be litter-free.

Up and down the race course, as roughly 18,000 runners and walkers celebrated Independence Day by taking part in the 52nd Peachtree, their 6.2-mile treks were enabled by thousands of volunteers, police officers, firefighters, medical personnel and other public servants such as Robinson. It’s no different than any other Peachtree, only this year many of them punched in for the second day in a row.

Even for volunteers, there seemed little hesitation to devote much of the holiday weekend to serve those partaking in this Atlanta institution.

“That’s what they needed, and that they were (having the Peachtree) at all, I was happy to do whatever they needed,” said Peggy Amend of Sandy Springs, a volunteer crew chief overseeing the race’s first water stop.

Amend has been volunteering at the Peachtree for the Atlanta Track Club for 25 years. She usually has been stationed at the water stop along Cardiac Hill, the steep incline near the Shepherd Center. The grueling climb has provided inspiration for her to continue volunteering, even as it has meant getting up as early as 3:30 a.m. on a holiday to do so.

“I love watching (the Peachtree),” she said. “I love watching the wheelchair racers go up Cardiac Hill.”

Less than a mile from Amend, the Rev. Sam Candler provided additional refreshment, sprinkling watery blessings to participants in front of his church, the Cathedral of St. Philip.

Double duty was no small calling for Candler, a Peachtree fixture since 1999. Starting with the first wave of runners Saturday morning and wheelchair racers Sunday, Candler was dipping his right hand into a silver bowl and flinging water onto participants (including Sen. Raphael Warnock) almost nonstop. The bowl itself, which he held with his left hand, weighed perhaps five pounds when full.

He simultaneously was shouting strings of blessings to all, and in five languages (Arabic, Hebrew, Latin, Spanish and English), calling out with love and volume.

“Blessings to each of you!” Candler shouted. “God bless you! And you and you! God bless you, blessings to you! Blessings, blessings!

Fewer participants eased the physical strain – normally, the Peachtree field is about 60,000, cascading down Peachtree in a virtually unceasing flow for two-plus hours – as did the track club’s sending the start groups off 10 minutes apart instead of the usual five, creating some pockets of lighter traffic. But, at his busiest, he was hitting a rate of about 45 blessings/minute and continually calling out to the sneakered masses, a demanding pace of sanctification when done for more than two hours for two days in a row.

His arm and his voice were both taxed. Still, the act of blessing energized him.

“The fast and the slow and the energetic and the slacker – we bless all of them,” Candler said.

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William Robinson collects a plastic water bottle from a participant at the AJC Peachtree Road Race July 4, 2021. Robinson has worked at the race more than 20 times. (AJC photo by Ken Sugiura)

William Robinson collects a plastic water bottle from a participant at the AJC Peachtree Road Race July 4, 2021. Robinson has worked at the race more than 20 times. (AJC photo by Ken Sugiura)

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William Robinson collects a plastic water bottle from a participant at the AJC Peachtree Road Race July 4, 2021. Robinson has worked at the race more than 20 times. (AJC photo by Ken Sugiura)

At Peachtree and Lindbergh, just down the road from Candler’s post, Eugene Edwards watched the race go by alongside the garbage truck he drives for the city. Edwards had stationed his rig on Lindbergh, one of several parked at intersections on the course, to discourage a vehicular attack on the race. It is a safety measure that has been put in place in recent years.

“We’re doing our part for the city,” he said. “We didn’t have this last year, so it feels good to be back out.”

In Piedmont Park, as volunteers welcomed finishers and medical personnel tended to those overcome by exhaustion or heat, a particularly dedicated trio of volunteers oversaw the distribution of the prized finisher’s T-shirts.

Scott Patton, Linda Hart-Patton and their son Miles Patton combine for more than 80 years of volunteering at the Peachtree. That’s if you credit 21-year-old Miles with 21 years, as he has been accompanying his parents since birth.

Scott has been a crew chief overseeing the pre-race pickup of the T-shirts and setup of the T-shirt distribution stations in Piedmont Park, Linda has led race-day distribution of the shirts and Miles has volunteered as an errand runner.

“Seeing people, just saying, ‘Happy Fourth of July,’ seeing their smiles as they come through is an amazing feeling,” said Miles, a junior at Morehouse. “Just to be part of it is something amazing.”

The Peachtree was one of Scott and Linda’s first dates – her family has had a longtime connection to the race – and their continuing commitment to it even withstood their divorce in 2011. Their involvement goes far beyond race day, starting at the beginning of the year with recruitment of volunteers and ongoing instruction and communication.

“It’s been a family affair,” Scott said.

Their service, and that of thousands of others, won the day again for the 31,000 participants who again enjoyed the Peachtree over the two race days (plus another 8,000 took part virtually), this time supported by a process significantly complicated by COVID-19. With the two days completed with nary a glitch, track club executive director Rich Kenah described himself as “proud and relieved.”

“The challenge from a volunteer, staff and then city-support perspective is just the sheer number of hours over a short period of time that it takes to do it successfully,” he said. “If I’m pointing to one thing that is the victory, is (that) all of Atlanta normally comes together for one big day. And this year, all of Atlanta came together for two big days.”

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Scott Patton (left) and Linda Hart-Patton (right) and their son Miles Patton (center) pose for a photo in Piedmont Park on July 4, 2021 at the AJC Peachtree Road Race. The three are longtime volunteers for the race, specifically with the pre-race setup of the T-shirt distribution area and the race-day distribution of the shirts. (AJC photo by Ken Sugiura)

Scott Patton (left) and Linda Hart-Patton (right) and their son Miles Patton (center) pose for a photo in Piedmont Park on July 4, 2021 at the AJC Peachtree Road Race. The three are longtime volunteers for the race, specifically with the pre-race setup of the T-shirt distribution area and the race-day distribution of the shirts. (AJC photo by Ken Sugiura)

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Scott Patton (left) and Linda Hart-Patton (right) and their son Miles Patton (center) pose for a photo in Piedmont Park on July 4, 2021 at the AJC Peachtree Road Race. The three are longtime volunteers for the race, specifically with the pre-race setup of the T-shirt distribution area and the race-day distribution of the shirts. (AJC photo by Ken Sugiura)

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City of Atlanta employee Eugene Edwards at the AJC Peachtree Road Race on July 4, 2021. Edwards parked his garbage truck at the corner of Peachtree Road and Lindbergh Drive as a deterrent against a potential attack on the race. Edwards was at the race both July 3 and 4, as the race was spread out over two days as a COVID-19 precaution. “It’s Fourth of July and the people are happy and they’re enjoying themselves, so we want to protect them,” Edwards said. (AJC photo by Ken Sugiura)

City of Atlanta employee Eugene Edwards at the AJC Peachtree Road Race on July 4, 2021. Edwards parked his garbage truck at the corner of Peachtree Road and Lindbergh Drive as a deterrent against a potential attack on the race. Edwards was at the race both July 3 and 4, as the race was spread out over two days as a COVID-19 precaution. “It’s Fourth of July and the people are happy and they’re enjoying themselves, so we want to protect them,” Edwards said. (AJC photo by Ken Sugiura)

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City of Atlanta employee Eugene Edwards at the AJC Peachtree Road Race on July 4, 2021. Edwards parked his garbage truck at the corner of Peachtree Road and Lindbergh Drive as a deterrent against a potential attack on the race. Edwards was at the race both July 3 and 4, as the race was spread out over two days as a COVID-19 precaution. “It’s Fourth of July and the people are happy and they’re enjoying themselves, so we want to protect them,” Edwards said. (AJC photo by Ken Sugiura)

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