Tralee junior parkrun was born on 4 December 2016. It took almost six months to set up from the very first day I inquired how to go about setting it up. Having experienced only one junior parkrun while on holidays in Stirling, Scotland in June 2016, it left such a lasting memory with our family that it was something I was very keen to share in my adopted home town of Tralee, Co Kerry.
As a family, we had never experienced a junior parkrun and we were very curious and eager to see how it compared to a 5k parkrun. When we arrived at the lovely Kings Park in Stirling, we were immediately drawn in by the energetic atmosphere of children and families, who were all getting involved. The warm-up was something we had never experienced before and I must say, I think I enjoyed it almost as much as my children! It was great fun and it included both the adults and children.
The Run Director at Stirling junior parkrun welcomed us warmly. We stood out with our Kerry football tops! My children were thrilled that they had been personally welcomed and we felt very special. I ran with my gang and my husband supported from the side lines with our two-year-old. I embarrassingly learnt when I produced my barcode at the end of the run, that adults don’t get a time! My children thought I was very cheeky but I genuinely didn’t realise, it was a learning curve for me.
We came away from Scotland with lots of lovely memories but Stirling junior parkrun was one of the highlights of our trip. I was very eager to see where our nearest junior parkrun was in the South West of Ireland. At that time, there were only three junior parkruns in Ireland and none in the South West, where we live. I approached our Event Director at Tralee parkrun and I found out how to go about setting up our very own junior parkrun in Tralee.
Having a fantastic parkrun community in Tralee, Co Kerry well established since January 2015 and already being very much in love with parkrun, it was very easy for me to be enthusiastic and excited about becoming involved with Munster’s first and Ireland’s fourth junior parkrun.
At our inaugural event we had 129 children and we were amazed to have had more than 100 4-14 year-olds! Three weeks later, on Christmas morning, we welcomed 32 juniors and on New Year’s Day we had 59. I am expecting the weekend of the Rose of Tralee Festival in August to break all sorts of records with attendance, but I am very mindful of the fact, that high numbers does not equal success. Ultimately, we want our junior parkrun to be welcoming, safe and fun!
From January to April 2017, we visited 12 schools in the Tralee area. The schools we chose were from core team’s children’s schools initially, and then schools with children who are regular junior parkrunners. The idea of school visits at first, was to get the word out there about junior parkrun but it became so much more than that!
We chose Wednesday mornings to visit schools. We thought that it was close enough to the weekend but not too close that the flyer we gave them with registration details, was left in the bottom of their school bags and perhaps forgotten about!
Every week, we would invite a school to junior parkrun and give them a big welcome in our briefing and give three cheers for their school. We would also take a photo for our Facebook page. Using social media proved vital in getting parents and teachers excited at the prospect of having their school the centre of attention at our parkrun the following Sunday.
Two from the core team visited each school and we wore our parkrun t-shirts with pride – nearly always a volunteer t-shirt, to explain how to earn it for volunteering 25 times. We also pinned a barcode to our t-shirt to demonstrate how to wear your barcode while running.
For older children, we asked the class teacher to bring up parkrun.ie on the white board and we showed the children how to register and explained how parkrun is worldwide. Children understood very quickly the importance of earning credit for the much sought after wristbands or volunteer t-shirt.
Children were excited at the thought of earning their wristbands and volunteer t-shirt and we noticed each week how much our numbers increased at the park. I also kept a close eye on our registration numbers which seemed to always increase after a school visit.
We brought with us two large laminated posters with photos of children running, smiling and waving at the camera, to give children an idea of what the event was like. The visual aspect was very popular.
We spoke to children about self-esteem and what it meant. We emphasised the importance of taking part in junior parkrun and how it was non-competitive. We asked them how they thought they would feel crossing the finish line and almost always, we got the right answer: PROUD!
In another capacity, I have dealt with children with low self-esteem and I can see the difference junior parkrun makes to so many children each week.
We are constantly encouraging children to volunteer and we are sure to thank them and praise them for their efforts. Certainly, when a non-family member and especially an adult, notices a child who is shy and lacking in confidence and praises them for a job well done, it impacts on that child in the most positive of ways. It is so valuable and vastly important to a child’s self-worth.
We have had children volunteering as tail runners, photographers, warm up leaders, results processors, Run Reports writer and marshals. Our aim here at Tralee junior parkrun is to have an event before our first anniversary that is completely and utterly run by our junior volunteers – with close adult supervision, of course!
Children who are not natural runners or struggle with exercise feel included in junior parkrun and I’ve seen children who over time will take part in the parkrun as well as volunteering. That’s the beauty of junior parkrun – it encourages the child who doesn’t like exercise and rewards them for both volunteering & running. What’s not to love?!
We feel that our school visits have been a huge success in growing our numbers at Tralee junior parkrun but for the safety and comfort of our runners, we have postponed future school visits. If our numbers ever drop in the future, we will return to schools with individual invitations, but at this moment in time, we are very happy with the volume of junior runners we have.
We were delighted to have Tralee junior parkrun included in this year’s Operation Transformation on RTE. I contacted the show prior to our launch, inviting them to the inaugural event and they decided to wait and visit us in January while the TV series was on. We had a wet cold January morning the day RTE arrived, but the smiles and enthusiasm from our junior runners was infectious and it was very positive in promoting our event.
Sunday 20 August 2017 is the Sunday of the Rose of Tralee International Festival and we are very lucky to be included in the schedule of events for this year’s Rose Buds. We will be welcoming all 64 Rose Buds to Tralee junior parkrun that morning, along with the current Rose of Tralee, Maggie McEldowny to help start our run.
We expect it to be our busiest event to date, but we welcome it and have already started planning extra volunteers and safety measures to keep our juniors as safe and comfortable as possible. I’m really looking forward to seeing all the Rose Buds in their sashes and running gear!
I am very proud of Tralee junior parkrun event, our amazing core team, wonderful volunteers, not to mention our fantastic junior runners. The sense of pride every week after a junior parkrun is immense. I love it and I know I am not the only one!
(Proud) Event Director
Tralee junior parkrun
If you are interested in bringing junior parkrun to your community, please get in touch.
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