When it comes to planning a road race, whether a major marathon or a smaller scale event, each one requires essentially the same thing: moving a large group of people across a small course and to a finish line as efficiently and safely as possible.
The same can be said when it comes to vaccinating the population against COVID-19. And as vaccination efforts get underway, race and running organizations are stepping up to assist with pandemic relief.
DMSE Sports, founded 40 years ago by Dave McGillivray, has managed and organised operations for 1,300 races, such as the Boston Marathon; the BAA 5K, 10K, and Half Marathon; the New Balance Falmouth Road Race; and the Olympic Trials.
But COVID-19 brought the road racing industry, like so many other industries, to its knees.
'For me, I always thought that this industry was bulletproof,' McGillivray told Runner’s World. 'I always prided myself on being prepared, but I wasn’t prepared for a pandemic. It wasn’t on our radar.'
DMSE, like other organizations, applied for PPE loans and had to lay off staff. At times, McGillivray wasn’t sure they would weather the storm.
'I was thinking about if we needed to hibernate for some time, and then I said, "Wait a minute. Put your big boy pants on,"' McGillivray said. 'I needed to put this into perspective. People are dying. People are sick. People are losing loved ones. I’ve lost a few road races. Get it together and don’t give up. Be resilient. That’s what the endurance community is about.'
Looking to pivot, DMSE reviewed its skillset for putting on events and how it could be applied to non-race-related events. Over the summer, they rented out equipment, hosted drive-in movies and outdoor graduations, assisted with outdoor dining for restaurants, and even supported COVID testing sites.
When winter came, a local vaccine provider in the city of Boston, CIC Health, reached out to DMSE and asked if they’d assist with organising the vaccination site at Gillette Stadium, home of the New England Patriots.
It wasn’t a seamless transition from races to a mass vaccination site. McGillivray and his seven-person team—Matt West, Ryan McGillivray, Aaron Nemzer, Tom Maglio, Andy Deschenes, Tim Barry, and Chris Troyanos—had to take into account many new factors such as social distancing, 24-hour refrigeration, and
also scheduling appointments, since the COVID-19 vaccine requires two doses, three weeks apart.
To make it even more challenging, they had about eight days to get operations up and running.
'As anxious as the country is to get vaccinated, there is a process and we have to do it carefully,' McGillivray said. 'I appreciate everyone’s anxiousness, but we’re basically putting on a marathon with the whole country. Think about a major marathon. Once the gun goes off, the person in 20,000th place isn’t going to even get to the start line for like an hour. But we’ll all cross the finish line, and we’ll do our best, like we always do, to get everyone there.'
At Gillette Stadium, about 1,500 people are being vaccinated each day. McGillivray says that will likely rise in the coming weeks, hoping to reach about 5,000 a day. DMSE will also utilise Fenway Park, home of the Boston Red Sox, starting on February 1.
McGillivray said that this will likely be DMSE’s major project for the next six to eight months. He hopes DMSE’S work will influence other races and organizations to help their community vaccination efforts. He’s already received calls from race organizers of Bolder Boulder in Colorado, Beach to Beacon 10K in Maine, and the Bellin Run in Green Bay, Wisconsin.
Similarly, he wants to see places like the The Armory in New York City, which has opened as a vaccination site, do what they can to help.
'Our mission is more important now than it has been the last 40 years of doing events,' McGillivray said. 'The virus knocked us to knees or knocked us out almost entirely, but we’re fighting, we’re saving lives, and keeping people healthy and bringing our own industry back. The comeback is always stronger than the setback. That’s what we’re into right now.'
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