Last week I wrote about the surplus government cheese giveaway that led to the creation of the nation’s second biggest run, Bloomsday, in Spokane, Washington. Today, another little-known fact; Bloomsday relies on an army of shirt distributors that travel to big runs around the country the same way migrant farm workers travel to wherever crops need to be picked.
With 50,000 shirts to handle, Bloomsday needs the manpower and expertise of experienced shirt giver-outers. A couple days before the race, a caravan of vehicles arrives in town, and dozens of shirters (how they refer to themselves), settle in and scout the finish area.
It’s a lucrative, high-paying gig, but the job’s demands exact a price on the shirters. Handing out shirts at a frenzied pace, accommodating size requests, carrying heavy cases to re-supply the tables, and the burden of offering consolation and on-the-spot counseling to distraught runners who had a bad race takes a toll. And when it’s over, it’s straight to the hotel to pack up and move on to the next run, hundreds of miles away.
I asked Megan, the woman leaning on the shirt pile and smiling at the camera, how shirters hold up under the pressure.
“To get this job, you have to go through an intensive, two-year program at the Academy of Shirt Distribution Arts in Ventura, California. There’s so much stress and pressure, but we’re able to get our minds off our jobs by doing something fun between races, which is absolutely necessary. Most shirters also spend the off-season, which runs November through February, at resorts in Thailand or Fiji to recuperate and recharge.”
Like any high-demand occupation, burnout is an issue. But Megan says there’s one thing in their favor – the high compensation allows shirters to become financially secure, and most retire by age 40.