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Volunteer Spotlight: John Umpleby

No one achieves success without the support of others, and for OUR race, that support comes from 3,000 volunteers. To bring attention to these very important people, we've added a new "Volunteer Spotlight" feature to our newsletters.

While each year we see a crop of new recruits, in some cases those helping have been with us for decades. That's the case with this month's profile subject: John Umpleby has served in many roles with the race since it was established in 1980. Please read the Q & A below and learn more about John!

Name: John I. Umpleby

City: Columbus

Job: Attorney

Family & Pets: Married to Sue Umpleby. We have two daughters, Annie and Audrey, who used to volunteer with gear check for the race. A couple of years ago, Annie and her now fiance were course marshal leaders for the Short North.

No pets currently, lost our beloved dog JayJay in December 2021.

Volunteer history/background with the Columbus Marathon: My involvement with the Columbus Marathon actually started prior to the first race being held in 1980.

The first running craze hit America in the 1970's. I started running in 1976 at Sharon Woods Metropolitan Park, and started a running club known as the Sharon Woods Striders. We organized runs and helped with races for non-profits such as the March of Dimes' Night Moves.

Greg Lashutka, Columbus City Attorney (later Mayor) and Mike VanBuskirk from BankOne helped start the Columbus Marathon as a way to generate attention for Columbus. Greg and I attended Capital Law School and ran together, and we often talked about what it would take to put on a race.

I ran the first two Columbus Marathons, and for the first four or five years the Sharon Woods Striders worked at registration on Friday and Saturday. I also helped at the start and finish lines with set up and tear down.

Later on my wife Sue and I and a crew of people started running the gear check, and did so for close to 30 years. When the start and finish were in different areas, the bags would have to be collected, put into a truck, and moved to the finish line, then sorted, all within two hours.

My wife came up with idea of sorting the bags by color; did not have time to sort them by number. Sorting the bags by color worked well except when a runner would finish the race and not remember the color of their bag!

Starting about year four or five I also took on the duty of organizing the course marshals.

Starting in mid-summer, I used to start asking everyone I knew or met if they would be a race volunteer. Some of my friends would avoid talking to me because I would be so persistent!

What do you enjoy most about volunteering with the event?

One of my favorite stories is about a woman who came up to my wife and I in the gear check area. I had helped her find her gear and after she changed into her warm clothes, she thanked us profusely for helping her find her bag and volunteering. She had tears running down her cheeks and I asked if she was okay and she said yes, they were tears of joy.

She went on to relate how she had been running for about two and 1/2 years. She said she started running during her divorce which was now over. Further, she said she had lost 30 pounds and had met a new guy, another runner. She related how it was her dream to complete a marathon and how happy she was to have achieved her goal.

My wife and I went about our business of helping others find their bags, but the woman's story stuck in my mind. I kicked myself for not getting her name and have never seen her since. Just a passing runner picking up her belongings, but with an amazing story. One that I suspect is like many, many others.

Do you have any funny stories from your time as a volunteer?

I have many stories. Here are a couple ...

One year the course went west on Ackerman from Olentangy River Road, turned right, north, onto Kenny Road and then turned left onto Shady Hill Drive. The police had barricades set up, on Kenny Road, only allowing northbound traffic. A senior citizen driver was headed south and was stopped by the police at Fishinger Road. When the police officer turned his back, the senior man gunned his car, hit the barricade and then veered off the road toward a house. An officer quickly reacted, went to the car, reached in and turned it off. The officer interviewed the man and asked to see his driver's license. He had a driver's license, but there was a major problem: It had expired eight years earlier! One year while helping at the start of the race, I was asked to go pick up the big box truck used to transport gear bags to the finish line. I had a volunteer who drove trucks for a living and we proceeded to retrieve the truck. The race had not started yet, and I was directing the driver to take back roads and alleys. We went behind the old Lazarus store on High Street and down the alley - which had a very low ceiling. Well, as you may guess, we proceeded to hit the ceiling! The driver smashed into the steering wheel, and I hit the windshield. Luckily, I was wearing a winter hat and suffered no damage, not even a headache. The headache was explaining what had happened! The driver and I were even forced to go to the medical tent to be checked out - they were barely opened and surprised to see us since the run had not started!

Why should others volunteer with the Columbus Marathon?

People should volunteer because it is fun and they are doing a good deed. If they are a runner and have run other events, then they are paying either backward or forward, depending on your outlook. If they are a student, in addition to what I previously said, they can receive credit for hours they may need for community service.

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