As nearly 10,000 runners approached the starting line of the
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Sunday morning, it seemed that each had a comment about the chilly weather.
"What I wouldn't give for another 10 degrees."
"This is nothing, man. I ran a race in college once…"
"It could be worse, Dad… yes, it could."
In fact, it seemed that only one person was embracing the elements—but luckily, he had the loudest voice of all.
"Is it just me," race announcer Jeff Meeks boomed over the loudspeaker, "or did it just get colder?"
Meeks, originally from Lakeland, Fla., is CGI Racing's race announcer. Today marked Jeff's second trip to Philadelphia. The weather doesn't scare him at all. "I'm getting to love this city," he admitted.
Before the race, it was Jeff's job to keep the runners excited, fired up and ready to go. He did so by introducing the different groups on hand and inviting crowd members to give 'shouts' to their favorite runners.
"We recognize birthdays, first-time runners, and people running for different charities," said Meeks. "It's my job to keep everybody pumped up and ready to run."
To accomplish this, Jeff's day begins at 5 a.m. and doesn't end until the last runner is across the finish line. "We celebrate that last runner every bit as much as the champion," Meeks said.
Of course, preparation begins at least a week in advance, when Jeff receives the race details, including top contenders, names, biographies, and any other information that could be of interest to the crowd.
Like most spectators, Jeff admits he has a rooting interest once the race begins. But he chooses his favorites differently than most. "Yes, I root for people with easy-to-pronounce names," he confirmed. "Absolutely. But it's my job to get these names right. I have a couple resources I use, for those names that have say, 12 consonants and one vowel."
Meeks offered a word of advice to people with such names to make his life easier. "Some people will provide information in their bios. 'Please pronounce my name as…' That really helps," he said.
(It's safe to say Meeks was a supporter of Sunday's winner, Darryl Brown of Exton.)
It's challenging enough to keep the crowd energized, recognize thousands of runners, and pronounce all the names correctly. But Jeff Meeks needed a bigger challenge on Sunday. So after introducing CGI vice-president Larry Redrow at the start of the race, Meeks belted out a stirring rendition of the national anthem seconds later that drew some of the loudest applause of the event.
"I wouldn't say it's typical," Meeks said when asked if race announcers often sing the anthem, "but I do. I've been doing it for a while, and it never gets old. I'm always available if we need a singer—a live anthem beats a recorded anthem every time."
Meeks admitted he was excited to meet one runner in particular. "One runner wrote in his race notes that he's a descendant of Francis Scott Key, who wrote the national anthem," he said. "I want to get a picture with him!"
As the race wound down, and the last cold, tired runners came in, Jeff Meeks was announcing their names and affiliations with the same zest he'd shown for the winners a couple hours earlier. In ten years of race announcing, Sunday's race—27 degrees at start time--was the coldest Jeff Meeks has worked. But it didn't dampen his enthusiasm one bit.
"I love what I do," said Meeks. "I consider this my dream job, getting to know the athletes, their stories… that does it for me. I've met everyone from world-class triathletes to first-timers. Today, I interviewed a girl who's lost 160 pounds and ran for the first time. They all have incredible stories, and I get to be the one to tell those stories. It doesn't matter how cold it is."