KENNEWICK -- Some folks associated with the Columbia Cup mark time by the victories by the boat teams.
It seems to be quite different for Kay Metz, the volunteer with an ever-present smile and willingness to help who hasn't missed a race in the event's 46-year history.
While doing it, he's played a role in bringing life into the world and saving the life of the sport's all-time winning driver. He was on the river when a man landed on the moon and a 9,000-year-old skull was found by the river's edge.
"We've put on a great race and been consistent, but if we didn't have volunteers, we would not have a race here, and it takes them all pitching in to make this happen," Metz said.
"But it's fun, and you get a lot of perks out of it."
To hear his peers, Metz gives more than he gets at age 71.
"There's no job he won't volunteer for," said Richland's Jim Powers, who serves on the board of directors for the Tri-Cities Water Follies Association, and has teamed up with Metz on the event for 25 years of the race's history. "He's an awesome guy, and he's got a heart as big as Texas."
Lori Lott, the board member in charge of media, advertising and sponsorships, said she feels the same.
"He's awesome. He's been doing this before dirt and before the Water Follies," Lott said with a chuckle. "He invented it."
Not quite, but Metz -- whose family owned Metz Marina -- jumped at the chance to get involved in the first race, called the Atomic Cup.
"I raced small boats and operated boats, so they had me as a tow boat operator," he recalled. "Back in those days, a lot of boats would break down and start floating toward the (blue) bridge and I'd tow them back to the pits. That was my first year of volunteering. After that, I helped out with the patrol boat, the medical boat, the rescue sleds and the spectator moorage."
His most important volunteer work came on the river in 1997. His five-man crew was the first to reach Dave Villwock after his near-fatal accident in the Miss Budweiser.
"We brought him back to life on the deck of the boat," Metz said. "That was quite a dramatic thing. And today he's the top dog with the most wins in the sport. But our rescue teams are among the best in the country, and they are highly trained. When you have a guy in the river and he's breathing water, every second counts."
And then there was that time with the pregnant woman.
"We took her out the back way to the Richland dock, and halfway there she delivered a baby boy," he said with a prideful smile. "I've had a lot of experiences out there."
And he remembers exactly what he was doing on July 20, 1969.
"We were patrolling and we tied the boats up and they the shut race down momentarily because Neil Armstrong was landing on the moon," Metz said. "It was broadcast on speakers and counted it down on the radio, 'That's 500 feet, that's 400 feet.' It was right during the hydroplane races."
The 9,000-year-old Kennewick Man skull emerged from the river July 28, 1996, the biggest international story in Columbia Cup history.
"That year, our wake kind of washed it out," Metz said. "We saw something funny, and that's how it was discovered. They claimed our boat wake uncovered it."
Metz also has seen the Water Follies remake its image from the raucous days of the 1980s.
"Years ago, it was wild in the park. They called it 'The Animal Farm.' Now, it's transitioned to a family event," he said. "You'll see lots of little kids down here. Nobody is getting out of hand. The beer garden is well managed. It's a family affair, and that's what we want."
Metz doesn't restrict himself to volunteering for high-profile duties.
It's not uncommon to see him out in the 100-degree days before race weekend with a paintbrush in his hand. This year, he's helping to head up concessions.
And he not only has given his time, but Metz Mobile Marine also has paid sponsorship money.
"Back when Budweiser pulled out, we didn't have a major sponsor. It was before Lamb Weston came in. We started a deal called the Platinum Club, 100 of us would donate a $1,000," Metz said. "I was the first one to write a check. We came up with $100,000, and we would have supported it if we didn't have a sponsor. That turned it around."
If Metz had a magic wand, he'd use it on both sides of the river to benefit race goers.
"I wish we had a little more viewing for the general admission people who come in, but we're doing a pretty dang good job, and I'd like to see more grass on the Pasco side where people could sit and enjoy it," Metz said.
But a bigger hope is for more of Columbia Park to become more inviting.
"They need to clear up the shoreline and create more beach front. Everybody loves the beach," Metz said. "Folks say, 'Well, the sand will wash away,' but we've got islands downstream and the sand has been there 100 years. In Richland, they developed a beachfront. We need to do it here. The waterways are a magnet."
Clyde Flint knows Metz better than most because they work on boats together and volunteer both at the boat races and Lions Club International. Metz joined later in life, but he rapidly worked his way up to district governor.
"Some of the guys whose boats we work on wonder if we're married because we argue so much," Flint said with a chuckle. "But if anyone donates and works for the community as much as he does, I don't know who they are. He has a good heart and helps anybody that he can. And everyone knows he loves to tell a story."
The past two years have been bittersweet for Metz. He and his family applaud the continued improvements on Clover Island, but they also saw their patriarch -- Dale Metz -- die Dec. 8.
"He was the pioneer of Clover Island, and he loved the water," Kay Metz said. "Back in 1965, he and several others went down to San Diego and convinced people we could put on a boat race up here. Prior to 1954, we didn't have the lake formed because McNary Dam formed the lake. It's turned into a great race, and one of the best in the country."