Person of Interest: Melissa Cade, Pittsburgh Marathon volunteer operations captain

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If it takes a village to raise a child, it requires an entire city -- and then some -- to bring to life a premier road race like the Dick's Sporting Goods Pittsburgh Marathon and UPMC Health Plan Half Marathon next Sunday. And most of those involved are volunteers.

People happy to stand for hours distributing bibs and T-shirts to thousands of runners at the race expo (more than 20,000 this year). Many more to guide all those athletes into the proper corrals on race day. Countless men, women and teens to staff water and GU stations along a 26.2-mile course. And, of course, hundreds of volunteers to cheer exhausted runners the last few blocks to the finish, provide medical care and hang hard-earned Runners of Steel medals around their necks after they cross the timing mats.

Recruiting, training and directing all those volunteers -- which will number about 3,700 -- is 37-year-old Melissa Cade of O'Hara. A research coordinator for UPMC Bipolar Institute by day, the Ellwood City native for the past two years had served as the top dog in the marathon's three-person volunteer management team. We managed to catch up with her between meetings.

How did you get involved with the marathon? I'm obsessed with staying busy. So when I started working at UPMC in 1997, which at the time was sponsoring the race, I signed up to help with volunteer check-in and T-shirt pulling. I did that for several years, until the marathon was suspended in 2004. In looking for different volunteer opportunities when the race came back in 2009, I mentioned that I'd helped with volunteers in the past. Lucky for me, it has slowly progressed to volunteers operation captain; for the last two years, it's been paid but I do it part time.

Do you have staff? No, but I do partner with two women who work full time for the marathon, Joan Gohh and Emily Baum. They help me with the volunteers, but it's not their main function.

When do you start? When do we finish? As soon as the race ends, we work to put together a volunteer participation party, and then there are lists -- who participated, what went right, what went wrong, how can we change for the next year. But the real work starts, with meetings, at the end of August.

How to you find volunteers? A lot of people are return volunteers who had fun the year before and want to come back. We stay in touch through newsletters and email. This year, we did a lot more reaching out to local businesses with fliers -- we walked door to door on Walnut Street -- and also contacted high schools because colleges are already out when the race comes around. Lots of kids need volunteer hours.

What's the hardest job to fill? The start line on race day can be difficult to recruit for because those positions start at 4:30 a.m. and finish at 9:30 a.m., when things are just starting to heat up at the finish.

And the easiest? The expo typically fills up really quickly. Maybe because it's indoors and you don't have to worry about the weather. On race day, a large portion of volunteers are on the course working fluid stations.

Which has to require some sort of training ... Yes. Fluid captains have to sit through a power point presentation to learn how to hold the cups and position them, so on race day they can filter that information to volunteers.

And everyone else? We keep in touch by email, so they know where to park, and what to wear and what the job will entail. Also, when they sign up, we make sure they know what they're getting into. It's fun and exciting, and this year it will be even better because we'll also have a big Cinco de Mayo celebration.

How has Boston affected this year's race? We've been amazed by the outpouring of support from runners and volunteers! People want to use our event to support what happened there; more people than ever are coming to help instead of being deterred by it. They seem extremely committed and we're lucky. Plus, [race director] Patrice Matamoros has been great at keeping in contact with everyone.

What's the most difficult part of your job? I don't find any of it difficult because it's so rewarding, but it can be overwhelming. There's countless meetings and you have to do a lot of time management.

Your favorite part? I find it fascinating how many people I get to meet.

Now to the personal stuff. People would be surprised to know ... I was a competitive runner in my early 20s.

So are you more impressed by speed, or distance? Distance.

On Sunday, what wins: "Mad Men" or "Game of Thrones"? Thrones.

Your idea of a perfect day would start and end with ... The ocean, a pocket full of sea glass and my family to share that day with.

Coke or Pepsi? Pepsi. I have actually never tried a Coke.

Pet peeve about Pittsburgh: Not a one. I love my city!

Three things you couldn't live without: Family, Light-Up Night, Red Bull.

Three things you could live without: Traffic on Route 28, chocolate/sweets and hats (I never wear them).

My favorite thing about my job: I love everything about my jobs, both UPMC and with the Pittsburgh marathon, whether working on grant submissions during the day or recruiting volunteers by night. Both are so rewarding. I enjoy learning something new each day, and the people are so amazing.

Best piece of advice you've ever received: "Everything in life evens out." Jerry Seinfeld.


First Published April 28, 2013 4:00 AM


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