When East Richmond parkrun Run Director Madi Mercieca posted in a visually impaired runner support group that she wanted to run with a vision impaired (VI) runner on an upcoming trip to Canberra, she didn’t expect to be paired up with an eight-year-old in her own street.
Levi Douglass’ mum Allison responded to her message, saying she recognised her name from other local groups and that she’d seen her running up and down her street, given they only live four doors from one another.
She said Levi would love to run at parkrun, but needed someone to run with him, so 28-year-old Madi said she was more than happy to help.
When Levi was five, he was diagnosed with a craniopharyngioma brain tumour, a rare type of tumour which attacks the pituitary gland. The tumour damaged the left optic nerve and left Levi with only 10 per cent vision, which can’t be repaired or reversed.
He’s had seven surgeries and 30 days of radiation and the loss of vision meant he had to give up team sports.
When Levi participated in his first school cross country earlier this year, he discovered a love for running. Though Levi had never done a parkrun before he ran with Madi on June 30, he was very keen to give the 5km distance a go.
Madi, a busy mum of a 15-month-old, said she was trying to get up to 50 runs and 50 times as a volunteer so volunteering as a VI runner was the perfect way to reach both goals. She said while she’d had no formal training to become a VI guide runner, she loved the challenge of helping Levi.
“You don’t realise how uneven the pavement is, where the little bits are raised when you have to communicate it to someone else. We take it for granted,” she said.
Madi said the most heartwarming thing about the morning was that while it took them 55.45 minutes to complete the course, everyone stayed around to cheer them across the line.
“I normally do parkrun in about 24 minutes but I was more than happy to do this for Levi, and we plan to do it again. We’re going to go to Penrith Lakes which is also close by to see if that course is any easier,” she said.
Proof that parkrun is truly inclusive and welcoming for everyone, on the same morning that Madi helped Levi complete his run, a group of deaf runners also ran at East Richmond parkrun. The group had earlier contacted the event team to say they would be there with an Auslan interpreter, to make sure they could hear the important messages in the run brief.
Margaret Johnston, a member of the determined and enthusiastic group of deaf parkrunners, said it was a great morning. “Word soon spread as East Richmond parkrun posted a welcome to the deaf community and people of all ability levels on their Facebook page which was then shared on various Facebook pages,” she said.
Margaret said while some of the group were already seasoned parkrunners, others were there for the first time. “As some deaf parkrunners had already passed their 100th parkrun (one has already done 157) they were able to advise and encourage their new fellow deaf parkrunners. Two new members have now registered to complete parkrun. “As more parkruns are launched, deaf people would love to attend but are afraid they would not be able to understand nor hear the announcements by the Event/Run Director.
“The National Disability Insurance Scheme has enabled some deaf parkrunners to use their funds to book an Auslan interpreter to attend parkrun. The interpreters translate the briefing and announcements by the Run Director into Auslan to make sure deaf parkrunners understand, as safety is a priority for any deaf parkrunner. With the Auslan interpreter present, the deaf parkrunners feel equal,” Margaret said.
Read more about Levi Douglass on his Facebook page.
Lena Charles and Bonnie Smith are Health Promotion Officers (and Best Friends) at the Victorian Aboriginal Health Service (VAHS) in Melbourne. They are passionate and love empowering their Aboriginal community to make healthy lifelong changes. One way they do this is by promoting the benefits of parkrun. They love spending their Saturday mornings at parkrun…
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