PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — When it comes to a large-scale, community-driven event, the quality and quantity of volunteers who show up to help can make or break its success.
This weekend volunteers showed up in droves to help wherever, whenever and however they could to assure the International Biathlon Union World Cup Races at the Nordic Heritage Center went off without a hitch.
“I have about 440 volunteers working in and around the venue,” Mary Lawrence, volunteer coordinator, said Saturday morning. “There is no way we could pull this off without them.”
In fact, volunteers began their efforts long before any athletes or spectators set foot in Presque Isle.
Committees made up solely of volunteers have spent the past eight months preparing the Nordic Heritage Center and its trails for the world-class competition.
“The jobs that needed to be done were all out there,” Lawrence said. “All they needed was someone to pick up the gavel and run with them.”
Among those responding to the call was Patrick McGill, who drove up from Marlborough, Conn., to volunteer.
“I used to cross-country ski when I was younger and skinnier,” McGill said during his lunch break Saturday. “At that time watching biathlon at the Olympics all you saw were the skiers skiing off into the woods and it was pretty much like watching grass grow.”
But innovations allowing for remote cameras, live video feeds and changes to the sport itself — such as mass starts, pursuit and relay races — have made it a more spectator-friendly sport, the retired Pratt & Whitney worker said.
McGill has been coming to a friend’s camp near Linneus for about 15 years, and when he heard about the World Cup in Presque Isle, he knew it would offer a once-in-a-lifetime chance.
“I saw the U.S. Nationals in Fort Kent last year and had a great time,” McGill said. “When I saw that Presque Isle had gotten a World Cup, I knew that was it — I was coming.”
McGill was put to work in the stadium area of the venue helping out with crowd control and race setup and breakdown.
“It’s been a ball,” he said. “The irony is I haven’t had a chance to watch much of the races but I got to see what was happening in the penalty loop and at the start.”
Over where the athletes submit their rifles and skis for inspection before each race, Matthew Parno was another volunteer who made a long drive to participate.
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology graduate student said it was his former roommate — Presque Isle native Peter Coffin — who planted the idea of volunteering.
“He called me last October and told me about the World Cup coming here,” Parno said. “I remembered last weekend it was this weekend, so I drove up from Boston on Thursday.”
While Parno has volunteered in other ski races and at the Boston Marathon, this was his first experience with biathlon.
“It’s been a blast,” he said. “It’s kind of cool to interact with World Cup athletes and they have been really nice.”
Parno’s job requires him and the half-dozen or so other volunteers with equipment control to inspect each athlete’s rifle, making sure it matches IBU regulations before the race and after the race to remove all used shells and again inspect the rifle.
Parno said the experience has been a nice change of pace from his engineering classes at MIT.
“My parents always taught me life is about balance,” he said. “At MIT it’s way out of balance because it’s all about the academics so this is helping put things back in balance.”
Without the help of volunteers like Parno and McGill, Lawrence said there is no way high-caliber events like the World Cup could take place in any community.
“When I see the volunteers and how dedicated they are, it reminds me of the class of this event,” Lawrence said. “Otherwise, I tend to get caught up in the minutiae of taking care of my volunteers.”

Julia Bayly

Julia Bayly

Julia Bayly is a reporter at the Bangor Daily News with a regular bi-weekly column. Julia has been a freelance travel writer/photographer since 2000.