A Joëlette is a specialist wheelchair, originally designed for hiking and trail walking, that I first saw being used when I ran the Rome Marathon in 2014. I was very moved by the inclusion this allowed, when I saw a young boy take his place in the Joëlette to participate in the event powered by a team of runners.
The notion of inclusion is one that is very important to me because of my own experience as a runner. The running community are fantastic at supporting people of all abilities, and I really benefited from this. I began running (well, walk/running) to lose weight a few years earlier when I tipped the scales at more than 22 stone. But no matter how slow I was, as long as I was toughing it out I was given tremendous support by fellow runners – some of them very fast indeed.
Seeing that Joëlette in Rome was a lightbulb moment for me. I figured that if I could somehow get one, and get a team together, I could repay that inclusion by helping those who would never otherwise do so to experience the thrill of participation in mass participation running events.
In the summer of 2016 I ran the John Muir Way, covering 138 miles over five days and collecting enough sponsorship to buy a Joëlette. The inclusive nature of the running community came to the fore again as I found no trouble in putting together a team of runners who were keen to be involved.
I had originally anticipated launching JAPES – Joëlette and People Experiences – at the Men’s 10k in Glasgow in June this year. However such was the response in terms of sponsorship and volunteer runners that I was able to launch this social inclusion project nine months early at the Great Scottish Run in Glasgow in October 2016.
Working with carers organisations (PAMIS and SBHC Scotland) we identified ‘pilots’ who would enjoy the experience – and they really did!
Since then we had JAPES teams run some Santa Runs, a local 5k, the Stirling Scottish Marathon, the Women’s 10k and then Eglinton parkrun on 17 June. Most JAPES runners are parkrunners – myself included – and a couple of us had spoken about taking on a parkrun. After all, parkrun is such a regular part of runners’ lives now, it was never in any doubt that we would have to participate with our Joëlette.
This began to become a plan when we found a very deserving ‘Pilot’, James Trott. James is an amazing young man; he is severely disabled and communicates through hand actions and expression. James’s mum, Jennifer contacted Eglinton parkrun in November 2015 to ask is her and James could come along and volunteer and see if James enjoyed it. James loved it! He has his favourite marshalling point at the crossroads where runners pass twice on the loop. He high fives everyone who passes and it is wonderful to see how animated and happy he is to be part of the team. He is there cheering and waving in all weathers, even the pouring rain and ice.
James first volunteered on 12 December 2015. Eglinton held a special event when he achieved his 25 volunteering milestone, and he’s now marshalled 40 times at Eglinton and four times at other parkruns so it won’t be long before a celebration for his 50th!
James’ mum visited us when we were exhibiting our social inclusion project at the Scottish Cycling Running and Outdoor Pursuits Show. She left her details with us and I got in touch with her to discuss James being a pilot. As a frequent marshal at his local parkrun it was decided that Eglinton would be JAPES’ first parkrun.
Eglinton parkrun is a three loop course set near Eglinton castle, running on various terrain, woodland, path and gravel, crossing over two bridges – tournament bridge and the laundry bridge. It’s a beautiful location.
On the morning of James’ JAPES run I was at Eglinton nice and early and quickly readied the Joëlette for parkrun. The runners arrived and I gave them some practical information on how best to run with Joëlette to support each other. Everyone had a seat in the Joëlette - I like to do that, to let runners feel how comfortable and stable it is. James and his family and care worker arrived and we headed to the start.
There was a real buzz about the park and lots of parkrunners were chatting to James and the Eglinton JAPES runners, taking photos and asking questions. Craig, James’ dad, took the position at the back of the Joëlette and pushed for the whole 5k as the rest of the team rotated as runners or kept watch as ‘outrunners’ for potholes, roots and so forth. A great team performance and a great gritty run by Craig – a father pushing his son around their local parkrun on Father’s Day weekend.
The rest of the Eglinton runners were superb – both on the JAPES team and those on the course. James is well known for high fiving runners as they pass the marshalling spot he takes up most weeks and numerous parkrunners, marshals and supporters high fived James as we made our way around the course. When we finished, everyone was saying that they knew where we were on the course because they could hear the whoops and shouts of support wherever we were.
As I said, James is renowned for his support and I was really touched by the thank you card he had made – one for each runner – it was his palm print, pressed in paint on the card. A permanent high five for us all.
We have a lot more planned for this year and beyond. We’ll be at the Great Aberdeen Run, the Great Scottish Run (for our first anniversary) but before that, during the summer, we plan to take the Joëlette and a ‘Pilot’ to the top of a Munro. The sky’s the limit!
Find out the whole story surrounding JAPES’ inception and launch via the following videos:
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