Red Card Roberts
They’ve witnessed history. They’ve celebrated with the world. They’ve pointed thousands of people to the porta-potties. They’ve helped countless lost parents find their kids. They’ve escorted gold-medal athletes to their podiums. And at least one has even saved the life of a particularly pushy photographer.
They are the nearly 200 volunteers who make the Visa Freestyle International World Cup at Deer Valley go off without a hitch each year.
And for volunteers Mackenzie Coleman, Lonnie Newman and Al Gillen, World Cup weekend is a lot like going to a class reunion.
"When we see each other again each year, it’s like no time has passed. I love coming back and learning who got married, who had a kid, and who got a new job," says Lonnie, who has been volunteering since 1997.
Mackenzie and Al agree. "There’s a camaraderie here you never want to leave," Mackenzie says. Al adds, "Once you’re in, you stay in."
Part of that is because this event actually has a waiting list for those who want to volunteer.
So how do you make working long hours in subzero temps while doing manual labor appealing enough that there’s a line of people hoping to be a part of it?
Simple, says Lonnie.
"Deer Valley treats you so well. They make it fun. If you aren’t smiling, they ask you what’s wrong."
Al, who once cut short a trip to Egypt just to make sure he was back in time for the event, says there’s something magical about being part of it.
"To be around world-class athletes and be part of an event like this, it doesn’t happen in very many places. To be able to look up at that hill and say, ‘I was a part of this,’ that’s pretty amazing."
Mackenzie says it’s sort of like being on the sidelines at the Super Bowl.
"To be around that caliber of athletes and to have a small part in the history they’re making is really special."
Combined, these three world-class volunteers have over 30 years of experience being part of the competitions at Deer Valley. They’ve earned their stripes, with Lonnie even being promoted to a position where he gets a radio.
"When they give you a radio, you know you’ve made it," he chuckles. "There’s no real hierarchy in the volunteer jobs, but if there’s one thing everyone strives for, it’s to eventually get a radio."
Radio or not, every volunteer job is vital to the success of the event. Al describes it as a huge machine with all sorts of moving parts.
And while Al, Lonnie and Mackenzie have been part of that massive machine for years, each has one special moment that trumps all the others.
For Lonnie, it was the 2002 Olympics. "It was right after the moguls finals. I was the jumpmaster on the second jump. When it was over, I stood on the jump and held up the American flag. The entire crowd just went crazy; the cheers came all the way up the mountain. It was just a few months after 9-11, and it seemed like everyone was just rooting for us. An American didn’t even make the podium, but the crowd was cheering for our flag."
Al’s most memorable moment was also an Olympic one. "To look out over that crowd and see the number of fans in the stadium and all the U.S. flags and the ‘U-S-A, U-S-A’ chants, it was just an overwhelming moment. And then to see that crowd react when Jonny Moseley did his ‘dinner roll’ at that moment, we knew the sport had just been changed forever."
For Mackenzie, who once helped an ambitious photographer narrowly avoid death in an icy section of a course he shouldn’t have been on, her "never forget it" experience came the year the athletes started getting drug tested.
"I had to get them to the testing people immediately after they were done competing. But they wanted to be with their family and talk to the press and they didn’t understand the urgency. I literally had to grab their arms and pull them and say, ‘Look, you can celebrate later. Right now, I have two minutes to get you to pee in a cup.’"
And while their memories and their volunteer jobs may change with each passing year, one thing seems to always stay the same their desire to be a part of it.
Al says it best. "There’s such a small population of people who can be a part of something like this. You never want to give it up."
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Amy Roberts is a freelance writer, public-relations guru and globe-trotting thrill seeker. In a former life she worked in TV news, both as a reporter and sports anchor. She has bagged peaks on six continents, kayaked the Zambezi and Nile rivers, swam with great white sharks in South Africa and tracked mountain gorillas in Rwanda. She was once very nearly sold for 2,000 camels while traveling through Morocco.
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