When a group of SUNY Cortland sport management majors recently sought valuable, hands-on experience in event management, they went big — to Sunday’s New York City Marathon, the largest event of its kind in the world.
Twenty-five students from the College served as well-trusted volunteers, working three days across a variety of settings, from Friday’s opening ceremonies to Sunday’s 26.2-mile main event. They played a key role in greeting many of the 50,000-plus finishers, guiding them through the post-race finish area and helping create memories that will last a lifetime.
For Alexandra Proulx, a senior from Gatineau, Quebec, who coordinated SUNY Cortland’s efforts this year, the experience marks an annual road trip that was a pivotal moment earlier in her college career.
“Being there (as a sophomore in 2015) opened my eyes to event management as a profession,” said Proulx, who made the marathon trip for the third time in 2017. “I’m not a runner, but just seeing how this massive event brings people together and makes them happy, it’s an amazing experience.”
This was the fourth consecutive year that the College organized a volunteer group for the marathon. Proulx took the baton from Elvis de la Rosa ’16, who started the tradition with approximately 10 students from SUNY Cortland and Tompkins Cortland Community College. This year’s trip also included five students from Cazenovia College.
Student participation has grown steadily each year along with the responsibilities entrusted by the New York Road Runners, the non-profit organization that manages the race.
Among their many duties this year, students guided runners during Friday’s opening ceremony parade, some woke up at 3 a.m. to set up the starting line for Saturday’s 5k dash and many filled spotter roles at the finish of Sunday’s marathon, watching for suspicious activity, identifying runners in need of medical attention and assisting the overall smooth operation of a massive finishers chute.
Perhaps most importantly, they gained unique insight into a global sporting event that welcomes more than a million spectators and approximately 12,000 volunteers each year.
SUNY Cortland Professor Mark Dodds has completed more than two dozen marathons in his life, so he understands the euphoric feeling of running 26.2 miles and seeing familiar faces at the finish line. He’s conquered New York City twice, in 2014 and 2016. Both times, his sport management students were among the first people to congratulate him after the race.
“When you finish and see someone who you recognize — let alone a group of your own students working their butts off — that’s pretty special,” said Dodds, who made the trip this year as a faculty advisor along with Associate Professor Tara Mahoney. “Regardless of the weather or the long hours, they’re in it just to work hard and gain experience. They’re the type of students you want to be associated with.”
The New York Road Runners provided bus transportation, hotel accommodations and marathon gear during the three-day trip, the SUNY Cortland President’s Office helped fund meals and Auxiliary Services Corporation gifted hats for students to keep warm.
Even though there was no additional compensation attached to the experience, Proulx said the hands-on work was a far more valuable reward for many students — herself included.
“We were so tired by the end,” she said. “Your body just aches because you’re on your feet for more than 12 hours. But it’s so rewarding because people are there from all over the world and they’re so grateful for the work you’ve put into this event.
“Seeing their happiness after finishing the race, it’s like, ‘I was part of this. I played a role in making this happen.’”
Above right photo, left to right: Elvis de la Rosa ’16, Professor Mark Dodds, Associate Professor Tara Mahoney and Alexandra Proulx at the 2017 New York City Marathon