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Volunteer experience proves motivational for Baldwin athletes

| Wednesday, Nov. 6, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

In almost 25 years of coaching cross country and track at Baldwin, Rich Wright still is in love with the sport that is making Pittsburgh a running destination.

“I love running and I love the sport,” Wright said. “I think Pittsburgh is becoming a mecca for running.”

Wright, a Pittsburgh Running Hall of Famer, and 23 of his Baldwin runners were on hand last weekend for the inaugural EQT Pittsburgh 10 Miler race.

The Baldwin runners had the opportunity to run alongside and shadow some of the sports top runners, and lent their hand as volunteers during Sunday's race.

“I think it's a great opportunity for young people to be involved in these events,” Wright said.

On Saturday, the Highlanders went on a five-mile run with the field's elite runners, then picked their brains before enjoying dinner on the Gateway Clipper.

“All those elite runners didn't have to take the time out of their day to talk to high-schoolers,” Alicia Mastroianni, a senior runner, said. “They didn't mind talking and getting to know us. They put more personal time in it than most athletes would.”

“I think it's such an experience to say that they ran with some of the U.S. and Kenyan top runners,” Wright said.

Baldwin senior Mike McLaughlin has volunteered at numerous events, including the Pittsburgh Marathon, but says this past weekend was the most insightful race he's been a part of.

“That was definitely motivational,” he said. “We've worked the (Pittsburgh Marathon) before. This was the first time you can ask questions to the runners, see where they came from, and see what their path was to get to where they are today.”

One runner McLaughlin mentioned was Lancaster native Jon Grey of Team Minnesota, who finished sixth overall with a time of 47:38.

“I talked to him a good bit,” McLaughlin said. “Just meeting the runners just makes you realize that they're like I am.”

On the morning of the race, the Highlanders had breakfast with the runners, and escorted them to the start line.

Each Baldwin runner volunteered for the event, getting there in the early morning when temperatures dipped below 40 degrees.

“I think it shows how close-knit we are, and how much we love it,” McLaughlin said.

McLaughlin's responsibility during the race was to place clocks along the course. At the five-mile marker, he struck up a conversation with a bystander, who was a runner himself and offered some training tips McLaughlin plans to use in preparation for college.

“I didn't get this guy's name, but I got to pick his brain,” McLaughlin said. “He coached all over and said he went to the Olympic trials when he was younger.

“I just asked him about different stuff. He gave me a lot of information I'm going to use in my training now.”

It's connections like that and the receptivity of the sport's best that keeps Wright and his runners coming back to help out at so many events.

“It's just different from any other sport,” Mastroianni said. “Everyone I've met through running is extremely nice.”

Wright added: “I think it's an experience they can carry the rest of their lives.”

Justin Criado is a freelance writer.

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