National Volunteer Week: Meet Monika Gebarzewska, Our Volunteer Manager | Meet the Team

Welcome to the very first post from our new blog series, “Meet the Team.” Since it’s National Volunteer Week, we’re excited to introduce to you our Administrative Assistant and Volunteer Manager Monika Gebarzewska, who’s also a passionate athlete herself.

Written & edited by Pavlína Marek

Meet Monika Gebarzewska

Monika is a former collegiate athlete. Originally from Poland, she represented the University of Southern Mississippi, her alma mater, in Track and Field (Track and Cross Country) events.

Eventually, Monika left the country to go back home but she wasn’t satisfied.

“I started a corporate job back there, but I missed being around sports,” said Monika.

She’d been happy most of her life, however, that changed when she returned to Poland. She decided it was time to get her new life back.

“I made it back to the US. I did Masters in sports management, and then I found this job with Jumping Fences and I feel like I found the industry I want to work in.”

Nowadays, Monika works as an administrative assistant and volunteer manager for Jumping Fences, the parent organization of both the San Francisco Marathon and the Berkeley Half Marathon. She’s been a part of the team for 16 months now and she also contributes to our social media platforms.

Monika Gebarzewska at the 2023 San Francisco Marathon Expo

Monika Gebarzewska the Collegiate Athlete

Running has been a part of Monika’s life for most of her life. She started running when she was 11 years old and quickly realized it was something she could keep doing.

“I used to be a dancer first as a child, but I switched to running because I learned that I was really good at it,” she said.

In 2016, she moved to the US to pursue her career as a collegiate athlete. She got her visa and started running for the University of Southern Mississippi.

“It was very competitive,” she said. “We traveled across the US for competitions and it was a really good time, although very demanding.”

When she represented her university as a professional runner, Monika and her teammates had to practice nearly every day. Monika didn’t mind it; it was simply a part of her life.

In 2020, after 13 years, the pandemic began. By this time, Monika had graduated and ended her running career, moving back to Poland.

Monika Gebarzewska representing the San Francisco Marathon at the Boston Marathon

Working for the San Francisco Marathon/Jumping Fences

Monika Gebarzewska joined the Jumping Fences team after several phone interviews with Peter Nantell, the Jumping Fences President and CEO.

“He decided to give me a chance and I’m very thankful for that,” Monika said.

Now that you’ve worked for Jumping Fences for over a year, what’s one thing you like about working for the company?

I really like our team because everyone is really nice and very open-minded. I like that everyone can share their ideas and people are very open to listening and maybe implementing them.

As I’m a runner, I also just like working in the industry. It brings me joy because I feel like I can contribute as well. I can use my running experience and see things from the perspective of a runner. Now being on the other side, it’s nice to combine these experiences.”

The Race Weekend

The 2023 San Francisco Marathon was Monika’s first time managing volunteers. Although she didn’t know what to expect, she had successfully managed thousands of volunteers over the race weekend.

How was your experience managing volunteers last year and how are you going to translate that into this year?

“Last year, I had no expectations because I had no idea what it was going to look like. Everyone was just telling me, ‘It’s very crazy busy when we get there.’ And it was crazy busy, but in a good way because I had the opportunity to learn.

I think this year I have a better idea about the timeline or what team I should reach out to and how I should do it logistically. I think, going into my second year, having that experience has already been extremely helpful.”

Working on the race is a year-round affair. However, what’s your favorite part of the race weekend itself?

“Of course, I love meeting people—meeting our runners and seeing how they’re happy and excited. I also enjoy seeing my team as we work remotely. I really like in-person meetings. So for July, I’m really excited to finally see everyone in one place again.

Recruiting volunteers also brings me happiness because then I get to see how they’re content with their shift, with being able to help others as well.”

The Biggest Year Yet?

So far, it seems that the 2024 San Francisco Marathon could be the biggest yet.

“Last year was the biggest so it’ll be great to break the record once again just one year later,” said Monika. “It means we’ll be busy. But that’s the goal—the more Runners the better!”


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A post shared by Monika Gębarzewska (@mooonikka)

Monika Gebarzewska at the Berkeley Half Marathon

Monika doesn’t work only on the production of the San Francisco Marathon—its sister race, the much smaller Berkeley Half Marathon, also falls under the direction of Jumping Fences.

Having experienced both races for the first time in 2023, how was the Berkeley Half Marathon compared to the San Francisco Marathon?

It was definitely less busy. Everything just seemed more relaxed, but I think it’s because there were less people, which means fewer volunteers and no huge crowds around. So it was easier from the perspective of a person working the event.

How would you compare the BHM and SFM communities?

“I feel like the San Francisco Marathon is more diverse. I think people come from more places, from out of state, from around the world. The Berkeley event, on the other hand, has more locals. They come from the area. It’s more neighborly.

I think that’s the biggest difference and it makes sense because the San Francisco Marathon is way bigger than the Berkeley Half.”

Volunteering for the San Francisco Marathon

Every year on race weekend, thousands of people work together to put on the San Francisco Marathon. From paid volunteers to seasonal interns to whole companies, it simply wouldn’t be possible to successfully put on an event of such size. Volunteering is a great way to enjoy the race weekend even if you aren’t a runner and an excellent way to give back to the community.

What would you say to someone who might want to work or volunteer with the San Francisco Marathon?

“The city of San Francisco in general is beautiful. When you volunteer in such a beautiful city, that’s already a good time. The weather is nice and all of our staff is around if you have any questions. We’re always happy to help and I think it’s really interesting how there’s a lot of races happening on the same day. There’s always something going on so it’s not boring.

I also think that just helping at events like that, events where people are there just because they choose to be there and they’re not forced to do it, is a great experience. It’s a really positive environment where everyone is in a good mood because they just want to be there.”

Let’s say I want to volunteer but I really don’t like the general business of things.

Maybe I don’t want to be at a water station where I’m going to be stressed about having enough water and giving attention to everybody who might need it. Are there any other roles that I could take on?

“Yes, water stations play one of the biggest parts of volunteering. However, the marathon is a big event and there are many other roles you can take on. For example, there’s the gear check.

You can also help at the finish line by giving runners medals and snacks, which could be maybe a bit less stressful. There are other options and I’m always happy to provide more details about it.”

If you have any questions or want to get in touch with Monika, you can do so via the official volunteer email address at Monika will usually respond within 24 hours.

Running the San Francisco Marathon

Last question: from a runner’s perspective, why should people run the San Francisco Marathon?

“San Francisco is a big city. I like to run in the places where you have nice views. The more things I have to look at out on the course, the faster it goes by. I think the SF Marathon is great in that way because you get to see the whole city, which is so iconic. You get to run across the Golden Gate Bridge. So I think that time goes by faster when you get to see beautiful places only on the way.

Also, the weather is just perfect. A lot of people think that because it’s in California and it’s in July, it must be really hot. But this is Northern California. It’s not that hot. It’s actually perfect weather for running. When I was there last year, morning was kind of chilly which is perfect for running.”

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