When Hurricane Sandy pummeled the East Coast in 2012, Stephanie Schuler Walsh ‘98 was inspired to get involved with disaster relief efforts. She had some experience with severe weather while traveling and always wanted to volunteer, but never knew where to start. “When disaster hit so close to home, I decided it was time to take action.” Walsh contacted the American Red Cross and began her disaster relief training right away, quickly stepping into the role of Disaster Action Team Captain where her project management skills were recognized and put to good use assisting a national team in virtually assessing areas impacted by disasters.
The first major disaster Walsh responded to was the Boston Marathon bombings. During the 117th running of the beloved annual event in 2012, two homemade pipe bombs exploded near the finish line on Boylston Street. That Monday night, Walsh helped staff a family assistance center in Copley Square. Later in the week, she supported first responders at the Incident Command Post in Watertown during the manhunt for one of the bombing suspects. “I wasn't doing anything extraordinary, I was simply handing out water and granola bars to the many first responders hard at work there that evening. However, when one of them took the time to thank me for being there...I understood the impact of volunteerism. It's a reminder that no matter what, your community is there to support you.”
That experience solidified her commitment to volunteerism, as well as deep devotion to the Boston Marathon. Next year will be the 125th running of this event and Walsh’s seventh marathon as Course Medical Coordinator. On race day, she oversees the 22 course medical stations along the marathon route, more than 400 volunteers that work in those stations, and all associated operations to the medical program. On average, medical volunteers treat anywhere from 800 to 1,200 of the 30,000 runners who participate on race day, along with an additional 10,000 volunteers and about a half-a-million spectators.”We service all of them...there are a lot of moving parts.” Since 2013, she has put in more than 400 hours of marathon volunteer service managing both the people and the process.
Walsh gained an appreciation of community as a student at TA. She played tennis and soccer, and helped start an AIDS Awareness Team. “There is a camaraderie in Saco that carries right down to the students at Thornton. When the community would support us, whether it was at fundraisers or sporting events, we felt compelled to give back to them.” She feels similarly about her team of marathon volunteers, many of whom come back year after year. In fact, Walsh reports an impressive 85% return rate for race-day volunteers. “Some people have been leading the same stations for more than 30 years, and they bring back the same group of people, adding a few more each year. It’s a close-knit community—a family, just like TA.”
When she’s not preparing for the next Boston Marathon, Walsh spends a lot of time with her family, as well as in the role of Software Development Product Owner at Meditech, the Boston-area medical software company where she has spent the last 18 years honing the same exceptional organization and project management skills she puts to use on race day. “I have always felt compelled to help; volunteering through the Red Cross has given me the outlet to do so...so many people want to volunteer, but don't know where to start. The volunteer world needs people who are willing to use their skills to serve the greater good. That’s all you have to do, really—take what you are good at, find out where that skill is needed, and show up.”
Walsh was the recipient of two awards in honor of her dedication and commitment to the Red Cross: Volunteer Of the Year (2016) and the CEO Award (2019).