As Alex Swedenburg crossed the finish line at the Steamboat Marathon there was no applause, no fanfare and the announcer didn't even have the courtesy to call out his name as he had for all the others who had traversed the 26.3 miles. Swedenburg didn't mind though, he'd spent the race following all of the runners in a car.
Swedenburg was one of 16 amateur radio operators serving as the ears of the marathon. Two other operators, Tom Ward and Stu Nadler, both from Craig, made the trip as part of the Northwest Colorado Amateur Radio Association. Their purpose: To be the primary means of communicating along the racecourse, to make sure all the aid stations are supplied with their needs, and to help race officials by spotting lead runners and reporting them to officials at the finish line.
"I don't know how they ran the race before they had radio operators," Ward said. "It would have been interesting to watch."
Swedenburg rode with the "MedVan" behind the last runner to make sure everybody made it back safely. Ward was in one of the vans going back and forth to keep aid stations supplied. The radios they operated were relayed from a repeater on Mount Werner.
To be an amateur radio operator, a.k.a. ham operator, one must take a written exam, offered by the FCC. If they pass the exam they are assigned call letters. For instance Ward's name on the radio is KBÃ'DII.
Ward, who is visually impaired, became interested in ham operating while he attended the state school for the blind in Denver from 1953-1958. He has been using them since. Swedenburg was introduced to the radios by his dad after he would spend all night talking on the phone with his friends.
Now they both help with the race.
Their instruments are similar to a car CB radio but there are codes that have to be followed.
"It's not quite as informal as the semi truck radios," Swedenburg said. "You can't get away with the stuff they say on those because the airwaves are monitored."
Each operator was given a call name and each aid station a letter so a communication could have gone something like this:
"Net control this is station echo."
"This is net control -- go ahead."
"First male runner is number 302 at station delta."
"Roger, thank you."
All of the hams volunteered their time to help with the race, which Ward seemed happy to do.
"Each year we learn how to do it better," he said. "It's an interesting day."
Sunday, the racers were rained on for two hours, so it kept the numbers of heat stroke for runners down. It also kept Swedenburg and the medics he was riding less busy.
"We just followed everybody and the driver talked to all of the people he knew," he said. "Listening to the conversations of all the others kept me entertained."