My name is Matthew, and for my bronze DofE, last summer and autumn I was a volunteer at Guildford junior parkrun.
I have been invited to share some of my impressions and memories about the event, such as the stampede of runners at the start, the eager faces coming to take tokens in the finish funnel, and the applause as the ‘marathon’ wristbands are handed out. Of course I felt apprehension when I put on the fluorescent jacket for the first time, but the fraternity and friendliness of the parkrun community made me feel very welcome.
I started helping during the summer term of Year 10 and then finished my thirteen week period in late October. My aunt was the person who suggested doing it, and I must admit I was sceptical at first, but given that I am a keen runner the environment here appeared less daunting than volunteering elsewhere, for example at a local Foodbank. Signing up online meant that I could be independent, not having to rely on my parents to sign long lists of consent forms. It reminds me of the simplicity and independence that running can provide.
My first experience at junior parkrun was arriving on a dewy morning in early June, before anyone else, and I was tasked with raising the emblematic parkrun flag. For the next five weeks or so I was a marshal, with the important job of policing the junction around a dead oak tree because on the second lap I had to separate out those running the first lap and those on their second. I have wondered why I ever worried about my suitability as a marshal because I found it was easy to encourage and spur on the runners, but I did because I am not a particularly extroverted person.
Marshalling turned out to be the most rewarding part of the experience, and it was a great to see how my encouragement could make an exhausted youngster about to give up go into a full-out sprint. When I have run in the 5k series, I know how important the few words that marshals say are, and how they make a massive difference to your endurance; I hope I have passed some of that onto the runners at the junior event. When handing out finish tokens, I realised how proud the runners were of their place, whatever the number was. I enjoyed barcode scanning, although it could get a bit frantic at times, because I could interact and congratulate runners more personally.
At school, sport is often segregated by ability rather than effort, but it’s brilliant that junior parkrun does not conform to this with so many runners from diverse backgrounds, only perhaps half from backgrounds with parents who run. The parents who ran along aside amazed me, at times, more that the kids: on one occasion, I saw a grandma in a dress with heeled shoes run past, being outpaced by her grandchild, but smiling all the way.
Another thing that I noticed was that kids dragged their parents along, rather than the other way round, so lycra-clad parents jostled alongside new, nervous runners, and hence junior parkrun has the dual function of also motivating uncertain adults to start running, without the embarrassment of being slow or ungainly. Perhaps the thing that I have learnt most strongly from volunteering here is that you do not need to be sporty or have sporty parents to do sport: girls in pink princess dresses start from the same starting line as harriers from the Waverley Athletics Club.
I would recommend DofE as a way of ‘having a go’ at something you wouldn’t have ever done before, and I would recommend junior parkrun for this encouraging and fresh view on sport. It is incredible that on rainy Sundays, when parents could lie in, a hundreds kids line up for a timed run simply because they love it so much.
One of the most memorable occasions was on the Guildford branch’s first birthday when people dressed up as Olympic heroes: a Usain Bolt ran, there were several Mo Farahs, and two other DofE volunteers came in a cardboard boat to be Helen Glover and Katherine Granger; everybody was talking about Mo Farah’s gold medal from the night before. For me, parkrun confirmed the infectiousness of running, and there was always a spring in my step when I ran home myself afterwards.
Volunteering at junior parkrun didn’t take much time up out of my week but it was always encouraging and inspirational to come and be part of something that really seemed important and valuable to the community. As I’ve learnt, volunteering does not have to be intimidating, and can be fun and inspiring: I am going to sign up for the silver award in a few weeks’ time!
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