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Karen Zook is the volunteer coordinator of the Mill Race Marathon.
Karen Zook is the volunteer coordinator of the Mill Race Marathon.

Karen Zook of Cummins was ready to accept the job as Mill Race Marathon volunteer coordinator last year when she asked for one last bit of information from the organizing committee.

She wanted to know how many volunteers to round up. The answer was about 400.

“We lied to her,” said Andy Pajakowski with a laugh.

Certainly, the race’s braintrust, of which Pajakowski is a part, might have been fudging a bit on the low side, but they couldn’t have expected the eventual number of volunteers to land at 850.

Undeterred, Zook not only squeezed out every available volunteer for last year’s inaugural event, but she has agreed to lead the charge again in 2014.

“I’m so excited,” said Zook, who is service development director-tech support for Cummins.

“We are going to have better management and structure because of our new race director, Joel Sauer.”

If the construction of a volunteer workforce has great management and structure, Pajakowski said it is because of Zook.

“A lot of (the marathon’s success) was hats off to Karen,” said Pajakowski, a global account executive for Cummins. “She campaigned tirelessly. She is one of those people you can’t thank enough.”

Now that the second Mill Race Marathon is looming, the time for thanks has passed. It’s time for a new effort.

Click and pick

Zook will benefit this year from a rebuilt website that includes easy-to-locate information about what volunteer positions are available and how many positions for each task are available. Potential volunteers can then sign up online.

“We need to be promoting our website,” Zook said, referring to

“You can click a volunteer role, see what the job takes and what tasks you can do. If they want to be part of a group (of volunteers), they can see how many openings are left.”

As an example, Zook noted that Columbus East High School’s Interact Club and the National Honor Society

members handled parking lots last year and will do so again this year.

She said that Sunright America brought a group of

80 people to volunteer last year and will again this year.

Columbus Regional Health has taken over four of the

10 groups of course marshal crews. “They wanted a bigger presence in the marathon,” Zook said.

With so many groups returning and even expanding their presence, Zook’s job becomes just a bit easier.

“We’re more than halfway done,” Zook said of attracting volunteers.

Rising to the challenge

Randy Stafford, who previously directed the Mill Race Race, which evolved into the marathon and who now is on the race’s organizing committee, marvels at Zook’s effectiveness.

“I had questioned whether we would get enough volunteers (last year),” Stafford said. “When you do a race, you start on top with the critical ones and fill down the list. Karen filled them all.”

He said the fact that so many groups are signing up to volunteer — the 19 water stations almost completely are manned by groups — is key to the process.

“Accountability is a piece of it,” he said.

Although her job is hectic, Zook said filling the need for marathon volunteers has been rewarding.

“I thought the marathon was a phenomenal success (last year),” she said. “It was because of the community engagement behind it. The volunteers were enthusiastic and willing to do whatever was needed.

“We’re going to have even better volunteer support this year.”

Volunteers receive a marathon T-shirt. Volunteers in leadership roles also receive a volunteer medal.

They get something else, too: Respect and gratitude.

“I wanted to make sure we took care of our volunteers so we could feed off such a great response,” Pajakowski said. “Now we have been able to build on it.”

The Mill Race Marathon also will have one additional volunteer on-site this year.

Zook spent last year’s race day at a family wedding in Texas.

“I’m going to be there this year,” she said.

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