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Friday, May 7, 2021

Ski to Sea swimming in volunteers

Illustration by Shannon DeLurio

By Allyson Roberts

April is National Volunteer Month, and marks the beginning of the preparation process for one of Bellingham’s biggest volunteer-run events, Ski to Sea. The multi-sport team relay event first hit Bellingham in 1973, and since then it has been all hands on deck.

The famous race consists of seven different legs. The first two legs, which begin in the Mt. Baker ski area, are cross-country skiing and downhill snowboarding.  After the team members get off the mountain the running leg begins, followed by the first water leg: canoeing. When racers reach land once more, the cyclocross bike leg begins, which requires riders to bike on-road and off-road, with the race concluding with sea kayaking.

Volunteer coordinator and assistant race director Ashlee Carstens was hired this January as one of only three people employed by Ski to Sea. Carstens’ job includes assigning over 500 of the volunteers to work their leg of the race, handing out T-shirts and planning the volunteer appreciation barbeque, she said.   

“I am blown away by the number of people who are willing to give up their free time for more than just race day,” Carstens said. “There is no way we could do the race without them.”

As a part of Carstens’ job, she spends lots of time reaching out to organizations in the community such as church groups and Western students, she said.

“I think this is a great opportunity to get Western students involved in the community, meet people and get to know the county beyond campus,” she said. “There is just so much out there and when I went to school at Western I didn’t do as much exploring as I wish I would have.”

First-year student Emily van Deinse said she has spent most of her life volunteering at a large amount of organizations in her home town of Ventura, California. In March, van Deinse was appointed the co-chair of the road-bike leg for the race, she said.  

“Some of the things that fall under my jurisdiction [are] coordinating volunteers, figuring out how many we need and contacting them,” van Deinse said.

She also said she’s in charge of making sure all racers are safe, everyone is going where they are supposed to be going and above all, everything goes smoothly. Like many volunteers, van Deinse was introduced to Ski to Sea at the info fair held at Western in the fall, she said.  

“I love the way [volunteering] connects me to people I might not meet otherwise,” van Deinse said. “Being a student here at Western I was looking to not just get involved in the Western campus but in the Bellingham community as a whole.”

The Ski to Sea Race Committee is made up of 30 members from the Whatcom County community, all of whom are uncompensated volunteers, according to their website.  

Maureen Stewart, another committee member, is the Finish Line chair and helps coordinate sponsors and vendors, she said. Along with volunteering, Stewart said she also works at Fred Meyer. At the store, she is part of a work group whose goal is to make the workplace a better environment and somewhere employees are proud to work at, Stewart said.

“I decided it’s not just somewhere in our four walls, I want to do something in the community,” she said.

Stewart pitched the idea to Fred Meyer corporate, and said since 2011, the business has been involved with sending a group to volunteer and help out at the race. After the first year volunteering with Fred Meyer, Stewart was asked to take over as the finish line chair.

“Being a part of something that is bigger than yourself, that you can say ‘I helped make this happen,’ it’s such a wonderful feeling to be a part of something that means so much to a community,” she said.

Assistant race director Carstens encourages all Western students, faculty and alumni to volunteer for Ski to Sea.  The race is May 26, and registration is available on the Ski to Sea website.



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