UNIVERSITY PARK -- Gary Somma was putting the finishing touches Friday on a tent that will function as the athletes' lounge during this weekend's Sarasota-Bradenton ITU Triathlon.
Somma, 74, a consultant from Sarasota, brought his tool belt, a cup of coffee and a cellphone for his work as an unpaid volunteer at Nathan Benderson Park, which is expecting more than 400 competitors Saturday and Sunday.
"I just show up and say, 'What do you need?'" Somma said.
He is among what officials say are more than 3,000 locals who work alongside paid employees, preparing for events at the Sarasota multi-sport park.
The park is already attracting 40 events every year, from dragon boat races to Olympic trials.
Now the volunteer program's leader will be changing, since its popular coordinator, John Krotec, has given his notice and will be leav
ing his $55,000 post to pursue a new business.
Krotec, 55, of Sarasota, worked for free when he began as volunteer in 2009; in 2014, he was hired as a full-time volunteer coordinator and community outreach employee.
He has used a variety of methods to build the ranks of volunteers.
"We recruit them from different homeowners' association, or through friends and family," said Krotec.
Some come to him through an Internet web portal, www.VolunteerMark.com, or through the website, www.worldclassrowing.com.
"Most of them, we get mainly from word-of-mouth," Krotec added. About 35 percent come from Manatee County, with the rest from Sarasota County.
The park sits along University Parkway, bordering both counties, which partnered with the Benderson Development Co. to develop a world-class aquatic center and multi-sport venue at 5851 Nathan Benderson Circle, Sarasota.
The park is managed by a nonprofit organization, The Suncoast Aquatic Nature Center Associates (SANCA).
Somma has done a variety of chores as a volunteer: He has put up fencing and banners, worked on horse corrals and assisted a professional photographer.
"I'm a jack-of-all-trades," said Somma, who also has a paying job as a self-employed project management consultant.
Another plus for Somma, who moved here in May from Philadelphia, is the people he meets.
He has met the famous, such as Guatemalan pentathlete Sophie Hernandez, along with many interesting local people.
Another volunteer has been helping out with practice events for the world-famous aerialist, acrobat and high-wire artist Nik Wallenda.
"I primarily help park cars, and after that, I'll direct media to photo opp spots," said Mike Cahill, 58, of Venice, who, like Somma is a newcomer to the area.
"I know where Nik will be," said Cahill, a businessman in Cleveland before he moved to Sarasota in 2011.
The park near the junction of I-75 and University Parkway is still being built into a world-class sports venue, and it needs its volunteers to succeed, said Cahill.
"Right now, I think it's heavily dependent on its volunteers," he said. "They do an incredible job."
Volunteer Nancy Gerry, 73, a Sarasota retiree, said she thinks Krotec will be difficult to replace.
"John...is absolutely the most gracious, wonderful person I can imagine, and I understand he's leaving," said Gerry. "I'm sure others feel the way I do: He's been such a big help to Benderson Park."
That thought was seconded by SANCA Chief Executive Officer Paul Blackketter, who said Krotec has built a legacy of which he can be proud.
"However, we are very supportive with John in his new business opportunity, and we are looking to replace the volunteer coordinator with more of a larger role in outreach, volunteer support and even business development," said Blackketter.
"We have several people interested in the opportunity. We are very excited to move forward. We will be also working with John in the future. He has an everlasting legacy at the NBP."
To volunteer, call 941-358-7275; or go to the Internet website www.VolunteerMark.com or www.worldclassrowing.com.
Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7031. Follow her on Twitter @sarawrites.