As a member of the Etowah Valley Amateur Radio Club and the Bartow County Amateur Radio Emergency Service, Cartersville resident Alan Scheibe embraced the opportunity to provide "communications capability" at SwimRun Georgia. The endurance event was presented at Red Top Mountain State Park in Acworth April 8.
"We were asked to participate because of our previous experience providing communications for the 74-mile ultra-marathon Georgia Death Race and the 100-mile Georgia Jewel Trail Race," Scheibe said. "For the SwimRun Georgia event, we were stationed at multiple aid stations along the race course, as well as on the safety boat, to ensure race officials and support personnel had reliable redundant communications capability.
"Using our own portable radio transceivers linked to the Cartersville VHF repeater station on top of Pine Mountain, we were able to stay in constant contact with race officials, both on land and water. In addition, one of our radio operators linked in from their home so they could monitor the weather and provide real-time updates via the the National Weather Service website."
During the event, Scheibe and two others were positioned at Aid Station No. 4 next to Red Top Mountain Beach.
"The racers swam to us from Wedding Point, then ran through the parking lot to Group Shelter No. 1, and then jumped back into the water to swim to the Cottage Road peninsula," he said. "During the race, three teams dropped out due to the unusually cold conditions. The safety boat brought one of those teams to my station because it was the closest place for the boat to land. I relayed their condition to race officials and assisted in getting them warmed up and taken back to the staging area.
"In each of the three instances, a ham radio operator was on hand to immediately relay vital information to race officials so that medical personnel could be dispatched by boat and/or vehicle. In addition to providing emergency communication, we kept a log of every team’s passage through our checkpoint to ensure no one got off course or lost in the forest."
In addition to Scheibe, whose call sign is KJ4LPI, the event also featured amateur radio operators — also referred to as ham radio operators — Mary Catherine Domaleski, KI4HHI, Fayette County ARES; David Hulsey, KK4DQO, Etowah Valley ARC and Bartow County ARES; Joe Domaleski, KI4ASK, Fayette County ARES; Charles Evans, WA4QYY, Etowah Valley ARC and Bartow County ARES; Frank Dean, K4SJR, Georgia District ARES; Joel Myers, W4JNM, Etowah Valley ARC and Bartow County ARES; Don Servais, K4CGT, Etowah Valley ARC and Bartow County ARES; and Greg Smith, KK4YLX, Etowah Valley ARC and Bartow County ARES.
For Tony Hammett, owner and director of SwimRun Georgia, the amateur radio operators were a key component to the event's success.
"We had six members of Etowah Valley Amateur Radio Club and Bartow County Amateur Radio Emergency Service assist the SwimRun Georgia event at Red Top Mountain and two from Fayette County, Georgia," Hammett said. "Their precise, professional and effective communication skills enhanced the overall event as they provided timely updates as our participants [passed] through their specified area along the race course.
"Both my team and the athletes felt more comfortable knowing we had them out there supporting us. I would utilize this team again."
In looking back at this year's SwimRun Georgia, Hammett shared he was "extremely pleased" with the race. Overall, the Kosmonaut Kittenz coed team captured the short course with a finish time of 1:32:13.8 and the Team ORCA male pair won the long course in 3:11:48.4.
"[Participants alternated] between overland runs and open water swims all while staying within 10-meters of their partner," Hammett said. "… I was extremely pleased with the event, especially with the weather conditions on Sunday. It was much colder than we expected on both land and water, but the athletes did great and kept positive attitudes. We had 42 teams of two from 12 states sign up and 32 start for both races.
"Our team spent almost a year planning this event due to the complexity of it. Overall, we had 30 lifeguards and water safety personnel on the lake, 35 land-based volunteers, eight ham radio operators, two paramedics and EMTs, a boat captain and his crew, and our team at the start and finish line. It was great seeing us all work together."
Along with serving as an emergency communications volunteer for the Bartow County ARES, Scheibe also is the vice president of the recently formed Etowah Valley ARC.
"[The Etowah Valley Amateur Radio Club] was established in August 2017 by several active amateur radio operators in Bartow County to promote the sharing of ideas and experiences related to building and operating radio transmitters, radio receivers, antennas, digital circuits and software," 63-year-old Scheibe said. "We currently have about 15 members ranging in age from 25 to 80 years old.
"The purpose of the radio club is to promote the amateur radio hobby in our area. We believe there are many other people in our community who would enjoy one or more of the diverse aspects of amateur radio, including not only the technical challenges of building and operating their own radio gear, but also talking to other like-minded individuals around the world."
He continued, "The primary function of the ARES group is to provide emergency communications capability to the local community both during and after disasters. The ARES group trains for these contingencies by providing communications service for various races throughout north Georgia, including the Georgia Death Race and the Georgia Jewel."
Along with interacting with other amateur radio operators in the Etowah Valley ARC and Bartow County ARES, Scheibe enjoys connecting with others across the globe.
"I got started in amateur radio as a novice when I was in college," Scheibe said. "I joined the local ARES group last year when I moved to Cartersville, and I have thoroughly enjoyed the camaraderie and fellowship of this group. I mainly operate on a digital mode known as FT8, which uses my laptop computer to convert written text to audio tones, which are then transmitted over my radio, which operates on shortwave frequencies above the AM radio band. Although we can legally use up to 1,500 watts of power, I usually run only about 25 watts and I have made more than 500 contacts with other stations in Europe, Asia, Australia, Africa and South America. My farthest contact was 10,000 miles.
"Also, I have made a few contacts through amateur radio satellites that are in low Earth orbit, like the International Space Station, which by the way, currently has astronauts aboard who are also ham radio operators."
The Bartow County ARES and Etowah Valley ARC both convene at Shoney's — 5615 Highway 20 in Cartersville — the second Monday of every month at 7 p.m. While it costs $25 per year to join the radio club, there are no membership fees involved with the Bartow County ARES, since it is a public service organization supported by the American Radio Relay League. With both seeking new members, those having an interest in amateur radio are invited to attend.
The hams also conduct a radio net each Tuesday at 9 p.m. on VHF FM 147.015 MHz, + offset, PL 100.