From my little perch on the 4th tee at Gardiner’s Bay Country Club, I’ve watched all 34 of the 10K races running past. You see, I was a golf pro and Saturday was always our busiest day of the week. At that time in my life, my biggest worry about the event was getting my members home before the roads closed.
Now retired, I finally had time to see what’s happening the entire day of the race. Someone mentioned that a good story would be to follow the race director, Mary Ellen Adipietro, around on the day of the race. Good idea even if this happened to be the third day of the U.S. Open at Merion Golf Club.
I asked Mary Ellen’s permission to follow her all day. Now I realize she must still be laughing about me trying to follow her around. Although I learned a lot and truly enjoyed my day, it could have been the worst thing I ever said “yes” to in my life.
There was no way I could keep up with her pace and that doesn’t include the five miles she ran that morning before I joined her. As far as food, the only thing she ate all day was some kind of unappetizing dry bran flakes in a Ziploc in her overcrowded car. Not for me — eating is one of my joys. When Mary Ellen wasn’t looking, I was grabbing sandwiches, coffee and dessert.
With the amount of bases she touches in one day, next year someone should be appointed to do just what I did this year. I found out that just about everything that happens on the day of the race goes through her. Her phone never stops and she has to carry a phone charger around all the time.
Although she has many leaders in her volunteer group, I discovered her basic core group was James Eklund, Chuck Kraus and Cliff Clark. I had a chance to see all the leaders together in her final meeting at 11:30 a.m. in the gym, making sure everyone was on the same page.
In all, we counted about 150 volunteers who had to know their exact jobs and times. I couldn’t get over the fact that so many people would come together and volunteer their time. After looking at the beneficiaries of the race, I started to understand.
I observed her handling crisis after crisis with a polite and well-thought-out response for each. I admired how she laughed off the things that aggravated her and made sure she did not upset anyone.
The hub of all activity was the school gym. This was the spot where about 1,500 runners had to report to. They had to register and pick up their goody bags and enter a free raffle.
Ready for a list of things Mary Ellen had to contend with? It’s a partial list because of space, but she was involved in working with the helpers in the gym, police, medical crew, firemen, water stations, parking, trash, bathrooms, showers, set up and clean up, food, clocks, finish line, shuttle buses, speakers, music, radio broadcasts, kids run, stretching clinic, announcing, awards ceremony and the postrace party. And like I said, this just scrapes the surface.
Her husband, Dr. Frank Adipietro, the voice of the 10K, was constantly in touch with his wife regarding the next phase. Dr. Frank must have been vaccinated with a phonograph needle back in the ‘60s. He kept the folks informed as to everything going on for hours as well as interviewing different interesting people. He was totally prepared and did a superb job all day.
Somehow, the two celebrities — Joan Benoit Samuelson and Bill Rodgers, the very best in the world of running — were also Mary Ellen’s responsibility. What an honor it was to have them on Shelter Island both running and talking to our youth. I couldn’t help but compare their presence to my sport, golf. The equivalent would be having a local golf tournament and both Annika Sorenstam and Jack Nicklaus showed up to play and talk to our people. Mary Ellen introduced me to everyone, but meeting Bill and Joan, was most definitely my day’s highlight.
Unfortunately, after describing her day, I will scare anyone from ever taking on this position. After 12 hours of not sitting down, not even to eat the food and drink I grubbed, I left Mary Ellen. It was 9:30 p.m. and she was at the post race party at SALT restaurant. You couldn’t miss her because she was the first person you would see when you arrived and she was still smiling, laughing and greeting runners. What a fantastic lady.
Thank you for a great day and if you are looking for a race director for next year, don’t call me. Please!