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Volunteers' helping hands keep the paddles moving at USA team trials
More volunteers needed for Pan Am games in May at Lake Lanier Olympic Park
Although not an official volunteer, Betty Baggett of Hattiesburg, Miss., jumps in to help other volunteers weigh boats quickly Friday afternoon during the first day of the U.S.A. Canoe and Kayak Sprint National Team Trials at Lake Lanier Olympic Park.

US Olympic team trials

Saturday: Racing begins at 9 a.m.

Where: Lake Lanier Olympic Park, Clarks Bridge Road, Gainesville

Admission: Free

Volunteer orientations

When: 2-4 p.m. May 14, 2-4 p.m. May 15, 5-8 p.m. May 16

Where: Boathouse at Lake Lanier Olympic Park, 3105 Clarks Bridge Road, Gainesville

A major month of events is underway at the Lake Lanier Olympic Park, starting with the U.S. canoe and kayak team trials that began Friday.

And each event requires a variety of volunteers to make sure everything is well-done.

But it’s the biggest competition of the three the venue is hosting, the Pan American Championships set for May 19-22, that will require the most volunteers.

Tate O’Rouke, volunteer coordinator for the Pan Am games, said Thursday the group has a little more than half of the 550 volunteers needed.

Cheryl Smith plans to be a volunteer for this weekend’s U.S. trials, the May 4-8 Canadian team trials and the Pan Am games, a final qualifier for the Olympics this summer in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Smith and her husband, Pete, have been volunteering since around 2000, when she went on a trip to Poznan, Poland, to take in the significance of international canoe and kayak competitions. They also volunteered at the 2003 World Championships on Lake Lanier.

This weekend, Cheryl Smith will be a boat control volunteer, measuring the weight and length of competitors’ boats to make sure they’re within the rules. In between her work, she planned to take a break to cheer for her daughter, Morgan Smith, who is competing and hoping to secure a spot on Team USA.

Smith said volunteers are vital in helping things run smoothly and adjusting if they don’t. The main thing, she said, is making sure unforeseen problems are handled in a way that doesn’t disrupt competitors and spectators.

“If the event runs smoothly, people want to come back,” Smith said.

O’Rouke said a wide range of volunteer opportunities are still available, including parking, ground maintenance, safety boats, driving VIP shuttles, presenting awards, opening ceremonies help and concession stands, to name a few.

She added that having bilingual volunteers will be vital with so many athletes coming from South America.

Volunteers will receive a jersey and refreshments while working the event. They are encouraged to attend one of three orientation sessions at the Lake Lanier Olympic Park boathouse set for 2-4 p.m. May 14, 2-4 p.m. May 15 and 5-8 p.m. May 16.

Volunteers can sign up on the Olympic Park’s website, www.lakelanierolympicvenue.

O’Rourke said volunteers are a vital part of making the Pan Am Championships successful.

Cheryl Smith said she enjoys seeing the Canadians and other teams come back to Lake Lanier year after year, seeing them grow as people and athletes. She said the facility is something those who travel here drool over.

“We are so lucky to have this venue here,” Smith said.