Susan G. Komen Atlanta 3-Day Recap #2

Posted on October 30, 2015

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Earlier this week Kari Johnson, the Command and Route Manager for the Susan G. Komen 3-Day® series, shared her Atlanta 3-Day recap. Today we’ll be hearing from Jon Lueders. In Atlanta (and all events except for Seattle, where Jon played the role of the Volunteer Admin Coordinator), Jon was the Route Lead. He’s responsible for the oversight of all route operations on the event and is accountable for ensuring all route stops are properly set up, managed and torn down. Jon is also the point person for all route staff, which includes training new staff and upholding the high standards the Komen 3-Day is known for. 

I know it’s coming, and I’m powerless to stop it. It doesn’t care how foggy brained or completely exhausted I may be, this unstoppable force comes charging my way. At the end of each day, or once the weekend is wrapped up for good, it still sings the same ol’ tune, even through different combinations of the words: “How was it out there?” “How’d your day go?” “How was the weekend?”

Ok, maybe it’s not as dramatic as I make it out to be, but answering these questions is definitely complicated. Each time they are hurled my way, I pause; not because the day was terrible, or the weekend was so horrifying that I’m having some PTSD. I pause because I need to do some math.

With hundreds of seemingly insignificant decisions being made each day, and thousands of consequences stemming from those decisions, it’s tough to snap to a final answer. Mentally, I quickly add up the good, subtract the bad, and decide if the indifferent was truly indifferent or if it led to the overall wonderfulness of the event. Some of the factors were totally in my control (I stayed on top of communication with my team, I stocked up my van the night before so I’d have everything I needed) and some are completely out of my control (of course the ice delivery was late, why wouldn’t the porta-potties be delivered to the wrong spot?), and through all of this and other generic frustrations that I forget about once a solution has been found, my day is a running tally of small events on this big event. See, not so easy.

So I’ve paused. The Atlanta 3-Day wrapped up on Sunday, so I have taken a few days to process, and allow the events of the weekend to settle in my brain. The big events have stuck, the insignificant ones have gently washed away, and I am finally ready to tell the world how the weekend went.

But first, some background.

My name is Jon (hello!) and I am the Route Lead for the 2015 3-Day Series. This means that I oversee the execution of the 60 mile route: every pit stop, grab & go, and lunch site from the opening mile, to that final step. I lead our wonderful route staff, who in turn lead the volunteer crew teams to the flawless implementation of our route processes. If I were to describe what I do in as few words as possible, it would be “mobile 3-Day information center/courier service.” My route team knows that if they have a question, I’m their guy. They need some supplies, give me a call and I’ll get it to you. Oversimplified, sure, but fairly accurate.

Being in the mix of everything on the route, I have a different idea of “how the weekend went,” so I typically break it down into three categories in my head (yes that means some more math):

  • How did the walkers enjoy the experience?
  • What went wrong that we can improve on for future events?
  • What went wrong that we had absolutely no control over, but it still frustrates us to no end?

The biggest barometer on the event is, how did the walkers enjoy the experience? More to the point, were the walkers inconvenienced by (or did they even notice) the multitude of issues that pop up throughout the event? In this regard, the Atlanta 3-Day went exceptionally well. No matter how late the ice delivery guy was to each stop, we were able to get the water cooled down. No walker went without ice, which is a big deal on a warm weekend like we had. Signage always seems to get mixed up (seriously, how does the “Welcome to Grab A” sign just disappear?). A couple of switch-a-roos, and everyone knew where they were, and what time they had to be out of the stop. Every walker got the PB & J grahamwiches and string cheese they all desired, with no shortages. There’s another mark in the “good” column.

For improvements, there were a few, but one stands out. A new lunch stop threw us for a loop on our second day. The site itself was wonderful; it was a wide open parking lot (great for set-up) with an area for walkers to sit under some shade trees and enjoy some restful time eating their lunch. Unfortunately, the restrictions on the site led to some stress. The early morning hours of our set-up surprised the security guards on duty. They weren’t prepared to open up the security gates to let a couple of box trucks, and a large coach bus pass into their site. Once that was settled, we found out that our maps weren’t correct, and that we needed to move our site towards the back of the lot. This was problematic, since it meant that walker traffic and vehicle traffic would be using the same entrance to the site (Which we try to avoid at all costs. Safety first!). So we compromised on the location of our shelters, and the traffic pattern, and got to work.

Set up was wonderfully smooth, but the real test is what happens when walkers arrive. We try and plan for what they will want to do first (Grab food? Seek out the medical tent? Use the, um, facilities?), where they will want to sit (shade is usually at a premium), and of course their safety (being 30+ miles through a 60-mile walk tends to make people less aware of moving parts, i.e. vehicles). We foresaw issues with each of these, but we were able to plan around most of it.

The set-up was perfect in terms of flow. People could hit the facilities, stop by medical, and then move on to their food and drink. No station bunched up at any point, which is another win. Places to sit falls under the “needs improvement” category. Since we had to move our set-up farther back than expected, many of the walkers didn’t utilize the shaded area that we expected they would. Instead, they found shade wherever they could; next to box trucks, tucked up under a short wall, on the steps of the office buildings. It wasn’t ideal, but they made it work. Finally (and most importantly) was the safety of the walkers. As I mentioned, we shy away from brining walker traffic and vehicle traffic in the same entrance. In this case, there was only one open entrance for everything. To help protect our walkers, we set up some wonderful crew members at the entrance, and made sure they filtered the traffic that was rolling through. Sure there were some inconveniences, but everyone got where they needed to be, and there were no accidents to be seen. Big time win.

Because of all of these not-so-perfect circumstances, we had ample opportunity to become overwhelmed and fail, but everyone stepped up and did a wonderful job mitigating the issues we had. The good news is, once we saw everything in motion, we saw the need for improvement, and the solutions to those needs. This site now knows what to expect and how to help us utilize the wonderful space next year. It’s nice to walk away from a site and know exactly how to plan it for future years. That is the biggest win of the weekend for sure.

And now the category that frustrates event planners to no end: the unknown. These are issues that arise out of nowhere. They pop up, slap us in the face saying, “Hey, I’m here to be a jerk for a little while,” and then they disappear, never to be seen again. A flat tire on a pit truck, homeless people trying to pawn off squirrels to staff members (this actually happened last year), showing up to a site and finding all of the parking taken up, or the whole thing under water. These are my nightmares.

Atlanta was more than kind in this area. Outside of a little bit of re-sodding in one of the parks we used, and the threat of some pop up construction on our route (luckily it was a street over), we were free and clear on the unexpected.

Except of course, the lost phone. Sure, participants lose things all the time throughout a weekend, but these misplaced items are not always so—what’s the word I’m looking for—gross. I was at pit stop 2 on Saturday and was asked over to a group of women who said the dreaded words: “I dropped my phone in the PJ.” Ugh! For those who don’t know, PJs are shorthand for Porta Johns. Yup, those things. I’ve heard stories of this, but never have I experienced it in person, until now. I could tell the woman was upset about the phone, to which many people said, “Why not just get a new phone?” The response was a good one: “I just got back from Europe, and it has all of my pictures from the trip.” Double ugh!

So without even thinking twice, I was on my way to make this woman’s weekend a little better, even if mine was about to get quite a bit worse. I grabbed some plastic gloves and settled myself on the fact that I was going to reach into an unflushable toilet to retrieve a cell phone. I had one condition: I had to be able to see where the phone was. I wasn’t about to dig through blindly. With that thought in my head, off I went.

Gloves on hands, I went back to the group of walkers. There was a new layer to the problem, which I hadn’t expected: the phone’s owner wasn’t sure which PJ she had been in. We had it narrowed down to three, but that wasn’t good enough for me (see my only rule above), so out came the other phones. We called her phone, we searched, we didn’t find it. After about 20 minutes of searching, we gave it up for gone, and I silently sighed with relief. Feeling slightly dejected, off the group went thinking there was no chance of ever seeing that phone again.

Of course, it wouldn’t be a great story if it didn’t have a happy ending. Because we knew the phone was in there, and we had to talk to the PJ cleaner anyway, we let him know that a woman lost her phone in one of three PJs. Many jokes were made by all sides. “I wouldn’t want that phone back” from the guy who gets paid to clean and move PJs. Door number two led to success. The vacuum that’s used to drain the used units had snagged the phone, and our heroic PJ cleaner was able to bag it up and give it to our crew team who were still on site. They brought the phone to me, I got some help hunting down the family, and voila! A happy ending. I only wish I was there when the family was told about the phone. Seeing the faces of pure amazement and happiness make my job worth doing.

Did they get the SIM card out and rescue the pictures? No clue, but I’d like to think so, and I like to think that they will enjoy those photos, and the quite outlandish story that goes along with them, for many years to come.

So that’s it. Those are the events that I have to weigh each and every time those words shoot my way, “How was the weekend?” The verdict: Atlanta, you were absolutely wonderful! I wouldn’t have changed one minor inconvenience, one frustrating moment, or one gross phone, because the good was so completely overpowering. The wonderful weather, the incredibly nice people, and the joy in the faces of every participant will stick out in my mind when I think of Atlanta 2015. And in the end, that makes the event a complete success.

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