“I Got More Cheers Than the Winner!”: Barbara Alpert Reflects on More Than 35 Years as an NYRR Volunteer
Barbara Alpert has been volunteering with New York Road Runners for nearly 40 years. “This number is unreal to me,” she says. “It’s almost my entire adult life in New York City!”
Like many who give back through NYRR, Alpert’s experience as a volunteer is intertwined with her experience as a runner.
After watching the 1978 New York City Marathon, Alpert immediately felt inspired to start running: The next day, she laced up and ran around the block near her apartment on the Upper East Side.
The following spring, she ran a five-mile race with NYRR as well as her first 10K, the L’eggs Mini Marathon. “I still have the medal I got that day,” says Alpert. “It’s a pin-on military-style medal.”
Around the same time, she began learning about volunteer opportunities with the organization. “NYRR volunteers used to gather to stuff envelopes with monthly mailings and race applications—so low tech,” Alpert recalls.
She volunteered at many weekly races, and in 1980 worked at her first New York City Marathon, in bib pickup. Alpert was also tackling longer distances—a 10-miler in 1980, a half-marathon in 1981, and a full marathon in 1982.
Alpert ran her first New York City Marathon in 1989, crossing the finish line in 4:22. “I will always be super proud of that accomplishment,” she says. “When I finished, I knew every volunteer at the finish line—and I got more cheers than the winner!”
“Running gave me incredible satisfaction—and all those years I felt unathletic in junior high and high school were becoming a distant memory,” adds Alpert.
Volunteering has been equally rewarding: “I've made amazing friends and I've had the chance to encourage and assist hundreds of thousands of runners over the years,” she says, “especially on marathon day as they arrive at our finish line after the incredible journey of 26 miles through the city I love best.”
Alpert has volunteered at that finish line every year that she wasn’t running the race—in rain, snow, sweltering heat. “I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else on that first Sunday in November,” she says.
She recalls many memorable moments—here are five that top her list:
- Watching Fred Lebow arrange the flags at the finish line the night before the race each year.
- Being inspired by Grete Waitz, Joan Benoit Samuelson, and so many other females who proved again and again that women can and do run the world.
- Helping a Brazilian runner training in Central Park during marathon week; she'd lost her teammates and spoke no English, only Portuguese. "We called Varig Airlines at JFK to translate for us so we could take her back to her hotel," recalls Alpert.
- Comforting a woman who wept in her arms after finishing the marathon a few years ago, telling her that none of her family would come to support her. "I told her that all the volunteers were there for her, and for all the runners, to celebrate their amazing accomplishments," says Alpert.
- Welcoming international runners with "bonjour,” “buenas dias,” “buon giorno,” “guten tag,” and “ohayou gozaimasu" and trying to explain T-shirt sizes.
“Volunteering at NYRR events is fun, inspiring, energizing, and heartwarming,” says Alpert. “I hope to continue doing it for many, many years to come!”
Learn more about volunteering at the TCS New York City Marathon and New York Road Runners races throughout the year.