By Nan Turner
In November I completed my first marathon. I’m not a runner, I hadn’t trained, but the experience is one I will never forget.
Sports Backers is an organization that has always interested me. Many in the Richmond community know the events they put on, some of which are even considered “famous” nationally. There’s the Ukrop’s Monument Avenue 10k in the spring, a race that boasts 40,000 participants, Dominion Riverrock in the summer, and the Anthem Richmond Marathon in November.
As soon as I was accepted to Virginia Commonwealth University’s Center for Sport Leadership master’s program I began shopping around for different internship positions centered in the public relations field. Sports Backers posted an alert that they were looking for such an intern, and I immediately knew I wanted to apply.
The next few months went by incredibly fast as I took on becoming a graduate student and working at a well-known sports commission. I met Alex Traugutt, a classmate who ended up filling the Event Promotions intern slot, and we embarked on becoming a part of the culture Sports Backers is all about. Alex and I got the chance to be a part of multiple events including the Patrick Henry Half Marathon, Maymont X-Country Festival, Martin’s Tour of Richmond, Richmond International Dragon Boat Festival, Call Federal Credit Union Marathon Jr., Anthem Richmond Marathon, and the Sports Backers Indoor Field Hockey Qualifier.
Three events stand out in my memory because of just how large a role Alex and I got to play in their construction and execution. We were a part of two inaugural events, the first ever Martin’s Tour of Richmond, and the first Call Federal Credit Union Marathon Jr.
For the Tour of Richmond I got the chance to reach out to national and local media asking them for coverage. I put together spreadsheets of individuals riding in the Gran Fondo and called them to see if they had a story to tell, or if there was angle about them that I could pitch to media in the area. Meanwhile Alex worked on the course; the assembly of it the day before, and he worked as a course marshal the day of the event.
Since the Call Federal Credit Union Marathon Jr. took place in a contained park and featured much shorter distances, Alex worked as the head course marshal and coordinated all of the other marshals involved that day. I got the opportunity to be the volunteer coordinator and make sure all of our volunteers were in place and properly instructed. The fact that we were given so much responsibility really helped us take our duties seriously and realize that this is much more than an internship, this is a job. At the end of the day we both felt overwhelmingly proud of the event and were excited to see just how much the children involved enjoyed their time at Byrd Park.
All of these events however were leading up to the ultimate experience, working the Anthem Richmond Marathon. While the race does well every year, this year had a record number of participants due to the cancellation of the New York Marathon. The half marathon sold out and more spots had to be added, while the full marathon totaled over 6,000. Leading up to the big day the office was much more abuzz than usual. It seemed like most days we had more people calling with questions about registration, or someone from the office was doing a television spot being peppered with questions about the new finish line or the increase of participants.
However the race is not the only piece to marathon weekend. There is also the Marathon Expo, and its construction and deconstruction. While Alex helped set up booths and signage, I worked with my supervisor, PR and Communications Manager Jackie Holt, to put together media kits and deliver extra goodies to area hotel staff to welcome the influx of runners and guests. On Thursday and Friday I worked at the Sports Backers table at the Expo and talked with people from all different parts of the country who were coming back for their second, third, fourth and even fifth time because they loved the event.
Event day proved to be challenging starting with a 4 a.m. call time. But soon the hours were flying by. Alex patrolled the course while I trained volunteers with how to handle the elite runners who would place in the various races. My main duty was to pair up with a placing runner once they crossed the finish line, present them their medal, and escort them to the winners’ tent. During our walk we would pause to set up media interviews with the Richmond Times Dispatch, NBC 12 and CBS 6. Midway during the day as I was watching one of the first place male marathoner speak to a broadcaster I realized I was doing exactly the type of work I’d always wanted.
I can’t say enough positive things about my experience at Sports Backers and desperately wish I wasn’t leaving there so soon. The staff gave me the chance to ask questions, hone my skills, voice my opinions, and most importantly become a part of the Sports Backers family. I think part of the reason this internship worked out so well is because of the unique partnership they have with the Center for Sport Leadership. Sports Backers advertises their internships directly to CSL and currently has two full-time staff members who graduated from the program.
Megan Schultz, the internship coordinator and Event Director, that Alex and I worked with on a regular basis graduated from CSL in 2007. Schultz, a former basketball player at Randolph Macon, knew she wanted a career centered on what she loved, and CSL offered her a way to do just that.
“The big thing was just a passion for sports,” Schultz said. “In undergrad I didn’t put a lot of emphasis on internships. I didn’t know what I wanted to do for a career so it was a natural progression to go into the graduate program and get more internship experience. It allowed me to combine my passion for sports with my undergraduate degree in business and economics.”
Schultz enjoyed the time she spent at VCU and thinks the technical aspect of the program was perhaps the most valuable.
“It was a great experience,” Schultz said. “The classroom work was fine and helped a lot, but I think the practical experience is what really paid off. Just the connections I was able to build throughout the program lead me to Sports Backers as a career. It was fun to meet new people and the program size was perfect for me. The Europe trip was a great learning experience, academically as well as culturally.”
Schultz added that this industry has so many connections, and students should take the time to discover those and utilize them to their advantage. Schultz, herself is one connection that I’ve made that I know I can always go to for advice, or just for the perspective of someone working the field I one day hope to be a part of.
“Internships provide such a great opportunity to learn what you do like and don’t like,” Schultz said. “It’s one thing to be in a classroom setting and learn that way, but I feel it’s a whole other experience to learn in the real world and internships provide that. Internships allow you the chance to apply what you’ve learned in the classroom.”
And I got the chance to do just that at Sports Backers.