Sometimes after you have become a mother, it can feel like you have lost a part of yourself. You are grateful that you have gained so much, but there can be a part of you that feels like you have lost your identity; or that it has been replaced with a new identity as a mother. This is a wonderful new role in your life; however, in the dramatic adaption to motherhood it is important not to lose sight of your own health and well-being.
Before I had children, I was a runner. Not of Olympic standard, but a casual ‘jogger.’ I usually ran alone with headphones to motivate myself, but after having children my running fell by the wayside. It was replaced with sleepless nights, a lack of energy and being consumed with my children’s well-being 100% of the time. These were all normal transitions into motherhood but one day, I woke up and decided it was time to do something for myself again. I attempted going back to running alone but it didn’t work for me any longer. It felt lonely. Then one morning after a terrible night’s sleep, I discovered parkrun. Not only did I become a part of this running community but I also started volunteering. The physical exercise and the incredible sense of personal satisfaction I got from volunteering changed my life.
There is something unique to the Sunshine Coast parkrun events, the Event Directors are primarily WOMEN. Women who are wives, partners, sisters, daughters, aunts and mothers. These are women who work full-time and part-time: whether that be in or outside the home.
But for all of their differences, these women have one thing in common; very early, every Saturday morning, they are marking out the courses of parkrun. They are organising volunteers, checking and re-checking stopwatches, ensuring that the parkrun paths are safe to run and welcoming old and new members. All of this before most of us have had our morning coffee.
I would like to introduce you to the wonderful women who make up the female Event Directors for parkrun across the Sunshine Coast.
Melissa Erbacher (Kawana), Debra Mills (Brightwater), Rachelle Crawford (Golden Beach), Melissa Taylor (Nambour), Jacqueline Taylor (Noosa) and Donella Taylor (Town of Seaside). These women have run 700 parkruns between them and volunteered officially a total of 610 times.
Recently, one early Sunday morning, I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to meet with five of these inspirational women to get an insight into why they do what they do.
What sort of support do you receive (from a partner, family, community) to enable you to continue your role as a Run Director?
Jack: Family support is awesome, in fact husband is Co-Event Director with me and our boys regularly help out when they aren’t running. Community support is also fantastic, with heaps of positive feedback and assistance.
Donella: We have two amazing Run Directors and a fantastic group of core volunteers that help us run our parkrun. We also have the amazing Melissa Erbacher as our Event Ambassador when we need some extra help and support with any issues we are dealing with.
Debra: My husband is a great supporter of me being an Event Director. He will look after our daughter whilst I do my duties.
Melissa E: My Co-ED Adam, and the awesome Event Team I’m surrounded by at Kawana are incredibly supportive. They all share the load of running the event on the day and are always available to bounce ideas off and look for solutions to any challenges that may arise. My hubby is also my behind-the-scenes, ‘silent’ volunteer as it were – the guy you never realise is actually volunteering. Whenever I have to show up early, so does he. When I need help carrying extra kit or am having technical challenges, he’s right there ready to help. I’m extremely lucky to have so much support.
How does parkrun improve your well-being?
Jack: I thrive on helping others, either through fitness or just a place to feel welcomed and ‘safe’. I love the community spirit at parkrun, everyone is there for their health, be that physical, mental or social. Seeing that in action gives me a huge buzz!
Donella: parkrun never fails to put a smile on my face, whether I’m running or volunteering. Those ‘feel-good’ endorphins whether I run or just mix and mingle with our community are the reasons I love parkrun so much.
Debra: I have made lots of friends who now meet up to go to the cinema so I get ME time which is great as well as post parkrun coffee on Saturday mornings for a good natter and catch up.
Melissa E: At parkrun the social aspect is equally, if not more, important than the actual exercise for me, and for many others too I believe. Getting out in the fresh air with other motivated people (or those who aren’t motivated and are searching for their mojo), is truly the best possible way to start a weekend. Whether you run, walk or volunteer, parkrun is like endorphin central!
What other self-care activities do you engage in?
Jack: Me time… although I do love being with my family. Swimming, mountain bike riding, walking… pretty much anything in nature helps me to unwind
Donella: Apart from my running I absolutely love taking ‘nanna naps’ on the weekend and I don’t feel guilty about it at all. I love to sit down and read and get regular haircuts.
Debra: I created Running Chicks as I found there was no forum to meet up with people who liked to run so this has transformed to 4 broods on the East Coast and it is all about support, encourage, inspire and connect with other women. Running chicks n roosters.
Melissa E: I try to make some ‘me’ time semi-regularly. That can either consist of doing some crafty projects, catching a movie with friends (or by myself), reading a book, or playing my cello (badly).
What advice would you give to women who are thinking of volunteering?
Jack: Do it! It is a great way to meet other like minded people from all walks of life. Helping someone can be one of the most amazing feelings that makes you feel good all day! Oh and parkrun doesn’t happen without volunteers, so if you love parkrun, volunteer!
Donella: The advice I would give to a woman wanting to volunteer is do it!! Women can do anything that they set their minds to.
Debra: Volunteering is the best way to meet new people as you get to chat whilst the parkrunners are out on the course as well as feeling that you are giving back to the community. parkrun would not exist without volunteers so if you want to enjoy the experience every week, we just ask you to volunteer 3 times a year and get involved in this great phenomenon which is FREE weekly, timed 5km run walk or skip.
Melissa E: Don’t hold back, go for it! Volunteering is so rewarding, and volunteering at parkrun in particular is very easy. All the roles are straight-forward, full training is provided and you are completely supported by the Event Team on the day. Plus it’s a fabulous way to meet people and make new friends.
Rachelle: Until you volunteer, you don’t really get a full sense of what parkrun is all about. It’s much more than just a free, 5km, timed run / walk. It’s about old and new-found friendships, camaraderie with those you see each and every week, and… the post-run breaky / coffee of course! Volunteering is a great way to get to know others in your community and you get to see first hand the impact parkrun has on people (beyond the initial impact of their fitness as they hunch over trying to catch their breaths in the finish funnel!). You will be well supported and I can guarantee you won’t regret it!
Why did you become involved in parkrun?
Jack: I originally became involved for my own and my family’s health and fitness, then loved it sooooo much that I became involved in volunteering, moving into Event Director.
Donella: My awesome husband Gerry thought we were not busy enough with 3 young children and running our own business so he had the grand idea of starting up our own parkrun. Being the supportive wife I am and already having a love of parkrun, I went along with it.
Debra: I needed to get out of the house and do something for me as I was suffering from Postnatal Depression.
Melissa E: Back in 2012 I had ‘dabbled’ a little at running and had a couple of organised fun runs under my belt (a 3k and a 5k event). When I heard this FREE, weekly, timed, 5k event called parkrun was coming to the Coast I had to check it out. From the first amazingly friendly parkrun I attended it was clear that the event could only operate with the support of volunteers so I popped my name down on the roster to help out that same month and it snowballed from there.
Rachelle: I had always claimed to dislike running as it always just felt too hard (and it still does some days!), but when a friend from my mother’s group suggested we join the run club at our gym, one thing led to another and I found myself at my first parkrun in Kawana on 1st March 2014 and have never looked back. It allowed me to play a part in building an entire community of people in my local area of Golden Beach who look out for one another, take time out for their own health and wellbeing, and just generally feel pretty chuffed with themselves and each other each week. I have come to know some amazing people through our community who have been through some incredible battles with their health over time and they keep coming back. These are some of the people who inspire me most.
These two photos show how lucky we are to have access to defibrillators at parkrun. 30 seconds after the first photo was taken Tanya went into cardiac arrest. Out for her regular Saturday morning run at Blackbutt parkrun, Tanya Barlow felt ‘a bit dizzy’ so sat down and that’s all she remembers. Luckily Blackbutt…
Mitch and his father never considered themselves runners, until they discovered parkrun. That lead them all the way to Hamburg to achieve something that neither thought would be possible. Wind back to October 2015 and I would loudly and proudly announce my disgust for organised running. There was nothing worse I could think of…