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4/25/2024 by Angelin Miller

It’s About the Smiles from Start to Finish for Volunteer Thurston Dyson

As a young boy, Thurston Dyson's Ellenwood home was known as "the runaway house" - a sanctuary where anyone in need of help, whether a runaway seeking refuge or a neighbor needing a helping hand - found solace.

"I grew up at a time where family and neighbors spent the night at each other's house. Or we helped with yardwork for senior citizens. I remember seeing the smiles on their faces and hearing 'thank you,'" Dyson, a longtime Atlanta Track Club volunteer, recalls.

Helping develop his empathy toward people facing physical limitations was one of his own: asthma, with which he struggled as a youngster. Ironically, he used the supposed limitation as a spur to try sports, in the hope of improving his ability to breathe. By the age of 17, he had triumphed.

"To finally overcome it … I felt free!" he says.

In 2015, Dyson saw something about the AJC Peachtree Road Race on the TV news, and his interest was piqued. Upon turning to Google, he discovered Atlanta Track Club and realized that its many events would offer him a way to stay active - he was already doing obstacle-course races - and give back at the same time. His first Club event was the Peachtree that year, where he served as a volunteer at the finish line.

It's still, he says, his favorite spot, where he can witness people reaching their goals, award them a medal for their accomplishment and see the smiles on their faces.

Since that first Peachtree nine years ago, the 42-year-old Dyson has become a mainstay among the Club's volunteers, a cheerful representative of the thousands being honored as the Club celebrates Volunteer Appreciation Month in April.

Last year, Dyson offered his time at so many events - at least 10 - that he was named an All-Star Volunteer for the second consecutive year. Then, a few months later, in February, he was named Volunteer of the Month.

"Not only does Thurston volunteer, but he's also the life of the party," said Kristin Lide, Atlanta Track Club's senior manager of community engagement & volunteers. "He loves to amp people up."

Along the way, Dyson has also become certified as an Adaptive Needs Trainer, helping people with disabilities pursue their own fitness journeys, and beginning with the Invesco QQQ Thanksgiving Day Half Marathon & 5K has been volunteering with the Kyle Pease Foundation. In addition to frequently running as a push-assist volunteer, he also helps in other capacities: facilitating wheelchair transfers, ensuring proper fit and safety of gear, and inspecting wheelchairs to be sure they are road-ready - perhaps an ideal role for someone who's worked as a Class A CDL truck driver for 24 years.

"Thurston is always seen with a smile on his face and is always ready to help out in any way that he can," said Zach Watson, the foundation's operations manager. "From running a majority of KPF local events, including the Publix Atlanta Half Marathon, to volunteering at Camp Twin Lakes, he's been such a huge help."

Dyson's efforts to help people with disabilities engage in sports and stay fit also include working with a group of other certified adaptive trainers and the U.S. Power Soccer Association to create a power wheelchair soccer team, volunteering at Chastain Horse Park's therapeutic riding programs and Friends of Disabled Adults and Children (FODAC), and coaching at Allternative Gym in Austell, creating customized workouts.

As he said in a video on his Facebook page after pushing for a Kyle Pease athlete in the Publix Atlanta Half Marathon in February: "All fitness levels are accepted. Just come out and run with me."

And the first thing a visitor sees on that Facebook page is this greeting, sure to prompt a smile:

"Have a great day on purpose."