In 2010 Dana Barkdull weighed 329 pounds and decided to make a change. A year and a half later she ran her first half-iron distance triathlon.
By that time, she had dropped to 254 pounds. The half iron distance, though (70.3 miles of swimming, biking and running), was still a huge challenge, undertaken only after prayer.
Barkdull realized she would cross the finish line after the official race ended. She expected to be alone, without support.
Instead, she approached the clearing and saw a huge “TriFreaks” finish line with the clock still running. Volunteers had all heard about the girl who wouldn’t quit. They stayed to bring her in.
“It just meant the absolute world to me,” Barkdull says, “so I started volunteering, originally as a way to kind of pay back what they had done for me — and then I quickly realized what it was doing for me.”
Last September, Barkdull, a social worker in a longterm care facility, decided to help out at The Grand Columbian Triathlon in Grand Coulee. She was impressed by the spirit of the volunteers. At midnight, a group of high school boys were still ushering in each contestant with flashlights and cheers.
“It was amazing,” she recalls.
Since then, it has become her passion. She puts in an average of 15-20 hours a week volunteering for TriFreaks, 30 on race weeks.
Next month, she will come to the coulee as a volunteer coordinator for the race, her fourth as manager. And she has a goal: “to make these volunteers … know how much they are appreciated.”
Barkdull came to the Over the Dam Run put on by TriFreaks and noted issues with volunteers, issues she vows to address. Next month, she will bring extra helpers whose jobs are only to meet the needs of volunteers working the race, she says.
Because without volunteers, such events can be done, she says. And she knows how important they can be.
“I went from a point of very deep depression and wanting to end my life, to wanting to live my life,” she says. “God used this sport to do that.”
Barkdull is still on the bigger side, she notes. “I’m the healthiest fat person you’ll ever meet.” She readily admits she may not ever win a race, but that’s not the point.
“I don’t care about coming in first,” she confides. “It’s just that finish, crossing that line, because I’ve been told my whole life that I can’t.”
Spreading that message is what volunteering at races is all about for Barkdull.
“It is amazing to see the joy on these people’s faces,” she says.
She and race owner Stefan Newbury will be in town this week to meet with anyone interested in helping at The Grand Columbian next month. They will be at the Pepper Jack’s Bar and Grille’s meeting room at 6:30 p.m. Thursday to meet with anyone interested in volunteering.