“Meet as strangers and leave as friends” is an apt expression that has been attributed to the parkrun experience. One family already with close bonds were pleasantly surprised to realise an even closer affinity as a result of their involvement in parkrun.
Large families are not uncommon in Ireland. So, a family size of twelve children is not unusual. What is statistically remarkable is that all seven sisters, five brothers, their partners and sons and daughters are all actively involved with parkrun. It is probably not startling that parkrun should play some role in their recreational endeavours. The Coppinger family are sports fanatics. They have a background of involvement in a wide variety of sports including Gaelic football, soccer, cycling, squash, athletics and even Ironman Triathlon. They were bound to connect with parkrun somewhere along their sporting odyssey. At the latest count the Coppinger dynasty involvement with parkrun stands at two Event Directors, six Run Directors and a total of 21 direct family members who run or volunteer in parkrun each week. And, they’ve only just begun.
As with all newcomers their first parkrun experience was an adventure into the unknown. As Marlay parkrun is the closest to the family homestead this is the event where many of the family commenced their expedition just four years ago. Little did they know when making those tentative steps as a first timer, how profound an influence parkrun would have on their family relationships.
At that time there were only two events in all of Ireland. Having grasped the parkrun experience at Marlay, including a stint at some of the volunteer roles Aisling Coppinger and partner Rob Cummins anxiously ventured to grow parkrun. Ignorance is bliss! They undertook to head up a new event at nearby Tymon parkrun. With great encouragement from Matt Shields, Head of parkrun Ireland and reassurance from fellow Event Director Julie O’Connor of Waterstown parkrun the event quickly became a focal point of the community. Heartened by that success her brother Niall then followed suit to lead another new event at Bushy Dublin parkrun.
The family absolutely deny any sibling sporting rivalry, of course. It is true that their run times aren’t compared or even the subject of conversation at their post parkrun coffee gathering. The infamous post run chat will involve lively debate over which one of them messed up in their volunteering role that day. No one will ever admit to ever dropping the finish tokens or failing to clear the barcode scanner. God help anyone who has inadvertently spelt parkrun with a capital P. Unforgivable! Once the parkrun jesting is concluded this post parkrun get together is a great opportunity to catch up on what is going on in everyone’s lives.
Where things do become somewhat competitive is the duel between the Aisling’s Tymon and Niall’s Bushy Dublin for the assistance of family volunteers. There is a mere two kilometres between the venues and all of the family live close to either one. Siblings Declan, Martina and Regina are all now experienced Run Directors, so each week their services are earnestly haggled until final agreement on their assignment for that weekend is made late on a Friday. The guys are too diplomatic to say which setting they prefer.
The highpoint of the family calendar is the annual weekend getaway at a chosen location. Here all the brothers & sisters, their partners and sons & daughters assemble for a celebration of family. This large gathering has been a tradition proudly initiated by their now deceased parents Peggy and Gerard and has continued through the generations. Each year there is eager anticipation, particularly among the younger folk as to the choice of venue for the revelry. The criteria for choosing the venue used just require a suitable hotel with facilities for kids activities. Now the setting must also be close to a parkrun event. So, Kilkenny parkrun and Tramore parkrun have been popular choices in recent years for the festivity.
It was only at one of those family gatherings that Jacinta, who lives in London ‘confessed’ to have partaken in one of the early Bushy Park Time Trial’s at the original home of parkrun with her young son Conor. Barcode numbers A 447 & A850, no less! The family connection to parkrun was in fact bound long before they even realised it.
As parkurn is now an intrinsic part of the family fabric it is a pillar for family occasions. Recently Eugene celebrated his 60th birthday with a large group of this Clonliffe Harrier club mates at Malahide parkrun. All the family agree that their most memorable parkrun experience was descending upon Tramore parkrun on the morning of the wedding of Aisling (Event Director, Tymon parkrun) to Rob (Run Director, Tymon parkrun). Advance warning was given to the Tramore core volunteer team of the expected additional numbers attending. The fact that the tribe brought their volunteer conscripts with them also helped. As the bride, groom and wedding party arrived to run in their wedding attire all of the Tramore parkrunners assumed the role of the wedding party to give the happy couple a true parkrun blessing. What better way to start your married life together than holding hands across the finish line of parkrun on your wedding day. It really was the perfect start to a perfect day for all the wedding guests with memories to be cherished for life. The family were hugely appreciative of the lengths that the Tramore parkrun team went to help mark the occasion.
Volunteering at parkrun cultivates people’s skills to the benefit of the wider community. This family has a wealth of skills which greatly enrich their neighbourhood. Eugene, who is on the organising committee of Dublin Marathon and is also a local Councillor in Fingal, was a huge resource to the team at River Valley parkrun by linking his combined experiences to assist the team in getting that event started. Eugene’s daughter Sarah is a schoolteacher in a school for children with a diagnosis of autism and complex needs called ABACAS Kilbarrack. Sarah started a running club for the kids in 2015 with the goal of getting the children exercising in a safe environment and encouraging them to practice using their life skills in working towards a goal of completing a parkrun. This was successfully accomplished when the students, staff, family and friends all participated and celebrated graduation by completing Father Collins parkrun. Many other family members are involved in coaching across a wide variety of sporting disciplines. This knowledge is generously shared and is invaluable in encouraging and motivating other parkrunners to achieve their goals.
The Coppinger parkrun footprint has even extended across the globe. Last month when Lucy was visiting her daughter and first grandchild in New Zealand she took the opportunity to partake in Hagley parkrun, Christchurch. On that same day Declan made his way on a family holiday to San Francisco to take part in Crissy Field parkrun, – just a distance of 11,000 kilometres and 18 hours between the two. The parkrun bug is infectious because Declan was joined on that run by his daughter Niamh and he even convinced his wife Elaine to make her parkrun debut even though her only available footwear was her flip-flops. There are more exciting parkun times ahead for the clan,with Lucy in the advanced stages of setting up a junior parkrun in her local neighbourhood.
The Coppingers appreciate how parkrun has brought them closer together as a family, and there is no doubt that the future generation of parkrun is indeed secure!
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