UNIVERSITY PARK -- Mike Staley and his wife, Patt, liked the vision of Nathan Benderson Park so much that the Lakewood Ranch couple started volunteering at the park four years ago.
"We wanted to be part of that footprint," Mike Staley said.
With the final preparations for Modern Pentathlon, which begins Feb. 17, under way, the Staleys -- along with about 800 fellow volunteers -- are working to ensure the six-day event runs smoothly.
For Suncoast Aquatic Nature Center, the nonprofit that runs Benderson Park, volunteers are crucial to the park's success, SANCA volunteer coordinator John Krotec said.
More than 30 percent of the park's volunteers are from Manatee County. Last year, volunteers -- who range in age from 16 to 90 -- filled 2,600 spots and 14,000 hours, according to Krotec.
"We can not do the events
without the volunteers," he said. "Part of the reason we even got the (2017) World Championships is because of the volunteer core and the community support that we've gotten. We've gone from just a few events to over 40 events. We didn't do it alone. We couldn't have done it without the volunteers."
Gary Klein, who is the park's assistant volunteer coordinator, has gained more responsibility since he started volunteering two years ago.
"They are a very good organization at trying to make a real impact with their facility," Klein said. "They are doing wonderful with it."
Volunteering at a pentathlon is not new for Klein, who was the site manager for the pentathlon last summer.
While the response to that pentathlon was positive, Klein said there is always room for improvement.
"It went so beautifully, but you can always do better," he said. "They are excited to bring it back."
Nonprofits such as SANCA are 100 percent dependent on volunteers, Klein said.
"It wouldn't happen without them," Klein said. "It is fully dependent on the volunteers. It is amazing to me the job skills that these people bring."
While volunteers help run the events, the work also benefits the volunteers. For Patt Staley, volunteering allows her to interact with other volunteers, which is her favorite part.
"It's one of the best volunteer groups that we've ever been part of," she said. "It's a great group. I couldn't tell people how good it is. ... Everyone there is smiling and wants to help."
By volunteering, Patt Staley said she's made friends with other volunteers.
"New groups of friends that are developing by doing something that we like doing and having fun doing it," she said.
Bradenton resident Linda Zutell has a passion for sports so when she found out about Benderson Park, she said she knew she wanted to be involved. "Volunteering allows me to get up close and personal with the sporting activities and to meet the athletes," she said. "It's also exciting to be a part of international world-class competitions that are booking events here such as the Modern Pentathlon. ... We are so lucky to have Olympic and world-class events in our backyard. It's a privilege to get to volunteer at these events and a special treat for our community. It's a win-win situation for all."
With the 2015 Modern Pentathlon World Cup I less than 10 days away, Krotec said they are still looking for more volunteers especially on Wednesday and Thursday.
"One of the things that we pride ourselves in Sarasota and Manatee is the people we have here," he said. "If you really want to show the rest of the world what we are all about, come on out and volunteer."
To register to be a volunteer at Nathan Benderson Park, go to volunteermark.com. For information about volunteering at Nathan Benderson Park, contact SANCA volunteer coordinator John Krotec at firstname.lastname@example.org.