Since the very first AF Canyon Run Against Cancer, Ryan Hecox has been there, making sure runners’ drop bags are waiting for them at the finish line. As a radiation physicist, he’s definitely overqualified for the job.
It doesn’t matter that the AF Canyon Run Against Cancer happens in June; it’s still coldat Tibble Fork Reservoir at 5:30 am. Smart runners will have packed sweats, blankets, gloves and hats to keep warm with, while they wait for start time.
The question is, though: what to do with all that stuff once it’s time to race?
Luckily, the answer to that question is very simple: you stuff it in a specially marked bag provided by the race and drop it off by the “drop bag” truck. Then — almost as if by magic — your gear is waiting for you at the finish line — sorted and handed to you by a friendly race volunteer.
How does that happen? Well, with a lot of commitment, smarts, hard work and a good plan — all of which since-the-beginning race volunteer Ryan Hecox has in spades.
But “Race Volunteer” doesn’t even begin to cover Ryan, because Ryan’s day job is as a physicist, working behind the scenes to help people fight cancer.
Behind the Scenes
Ryan is a friendly man with a big smile and a booming voice — a real people person. So it’s a little surprising to find that he’s got the ultimate “behind the scenes” volunteer job in the AF Canyon Run Against Cancer: “I have the glamorous role of being in charge of the drop the bags,” Ryan says, with a laugh.
And he’s been there, taking care of this increasingly large role — while the race had around 900 people the first year, it’s now closer to 4000 — right since the first year of the race.
With responsibility for thousands of drop bags, Ryan obviously needs help. And he has it, in the form of about forty people working with him to get those bags collected, transported, unloaded, and sorted in time.
It’s a race of its own, of sorts, walking a fine line between the rush to beat the clock (and the racers), and the need to stay calm and organized.
Ryan’s got a gift for this frantic work, though: In just over an hour — because some of the runners do this downhill half-marathon fast — Ryan and his crew need to load, transport, unload, and sort literally thousandsof numbered drop bags. And Ryan gets it done.
“I love organizing things. I like numbers. I like order. I like bringing some structure to this,” says Ryan. “I guess that’s why I was ‘volun-told’ I’d be doing the drop-bags.”
Ryan doesn’t mind this high-energy manual labor, though. In fact, he sees amazing value in doing it, because, as he says, “the funds from the runner entries for this race go directly to our patients. It's really satisfying to be able to provide this for our patients to be able to take care of lots of little needs.”
The organized, analytical part of Ryan’s personality certainly gets a workout as he does his day job: working as a physicist with Intermountain Healthcare at the radiation therapy departments in American Fork Hospital and Utah Valley Hospital.
That’s where — once again behind the scenes — Ryan really makes a difference in peoples’ lives.
“I’m in charge of the radiation therapy process,” says Ryan. “After a patient is diagnosed and they go through all the pathology, radiology, medical oncology, and radiation oncology, if it's decided that a radiation treatment is warranted, the oncologist says what needs to be treated — how much radiation.”
“At that point,” says Ryan, “It becomes a physics problem: pointing the beam in the right direction, making sure the right amount of radiation comes out, that the computer model for it is accurate.”
“My job,” he says, “is to make sure every single treatment, every single time is perfect.”
“Because,” Ryan concludes, “that's the only thing that's acceptable.”