In this edition of "Faces of the Grandman", we catch up with Mary Kathryn Levy (formerly known as Mary Kathryn or "MK" Cunningham), previous Development Director at Mobile Baykeeper who served as Grandman Race Coordinator for two years. From her North Carolina home, Mary Kathryn tells us what it takes to plan and prepare for the Grandman, why it's such an important event for Mobile Baykeeper, and also offers a few pieces of advice for both volunteers and first-time racers.
As former Race Coordinator, what does it take to put an event on of this caliber?
The biggest challenge with planning the Grandman is to make sure you’re doing everything well in advance because you want the race to be the best possible experience for the racers. They spend a lot of time and energy preparing for it and you want to be able to deliver something to them so they will say “That was so great, I can’t wait to come back and race again next year.” To do that, you just have to make sure you’re prepared and ready to go on race day. This is why we really value our volunteers.
What’s so great about the Grandman?
The Grandman is such a wonderful way to get people from all over the Southeast and bring them down to Mobile Bay and see this special place we’re so lucky to call home. It’s such a huge community event and makes a significant economic impact on the city of Fairhope. The race course is so beautiful too – there’s nothing quite like it.
What about the volunteers? Why are they so important to this race?
There would be NO race without our volunteers and the Baykeeper staff. They keep the race going and our staff works really hard to make sure everything is in place on race morning. They are an amazing group who arrive before the crack of dawn on race day to make sure our race is safe, fun, and that the racers are having the best experience they can possibly have. It’s hard work, it’s an early morning, the weather might be hot, but it’s so rewarding at the end as a volunteer to see the racers cross the finish line and achieve this type of great accomplishment. And then you get to enjoy such a fun post-race party.
What advice would you give to first-time volunteers or first-time racers?
For everyone who is volunteering – THANK YOU! I can’t even begin to explain how helpful volunteers are for this race. The volunteers are just invaluable to this race. They make it kick and they make it work. My advice to volunteers and racers would be get to the race site early. Figure out where you need to go and ask any questions. If you have a question as a racer, ask a volunteer. If you have a question as a volunteer, find a staff member. Everyone is going to be willing and able to help you get where you need to be. That’s the biggest piece of being a volunteer is just being able to go wherever you are needed because those are the people who really make this race possible.
The most important thing to know though, is to just have fun. The Grandman is meant to be a fun experience for everyone involved. It’s meant to be fun for the volunteers to see something as incredible as a triathlon. It’s meant to be fun for racers who train like crazy to get through it so they can be rewarded for their hard work when they cross the finish line. It’s important for both racers and volunteers to know that the ultimate goal of all of this is to have fun. Enjoy spending time outside on the Bay in this beautiful place we’re all lucky to call home.
You were the Development Director at Baykeeper for two years. How important is the Grandman to Baykeeper’s mission?
The Grandman is so incredibly important to Baykeeper for many reasons. First, and foremost, it’s a fundraiser. Proceeds from this event help bring money to the organization so we can continue to work for clean water, clean air, and healthy communities. It’s also important for us to raise awareness of our work and encourage people to get outside and enjoy everything we love about Mobile Bay. It’s a great opportunity for us to promote our work and show people why we do what we do.
2015 was the largest Grandman in the history of the race and you were a big part of it. Any secrets to success you’d like to share with us?
I’m an overly organized person and I like to do things well in advance and then follow up with people several times. I’m that annoying person who is constantly reminding people what they committed to. The race itself is so easy to promote because it’s such a fun event and people love the setting and the race course. It’s just an easy sell. I don’t think there’s one secret though, to be honest. The Grandman is a successful race because it is run very well by people who genuinely care about it. That’s the main ingredient.