“I could have never anticipated a photo that on first view made me want to cringe could have changed my life and touched so many.”
One year ago a photo of Dawn Nisbet finishing at the back of the pack in a parkrun in Manchester, UK went viral. The joy on Dawn’s face in overcoming self-doubt captured the essence of parkrun. For Dawn it took a little longer to see what everybody else saw in the picture, but it has changed her life. Last week as she joined the parkrun 50 club she reflected on how her life has changed for the better. Support from parkrunners thousands of miles away in Seattle even plays a role.
“When I first saw the photo all I could focus on initially was the wobbly bits – I couldn’t see the joy that others saw. But the response I received helped me to gradually look past the wobble and see the joy.”
It popped up on my Facebook feed not so long ago that it had been a year since ‘that photo’ went viral. Only a year? It felt so long ago and so much has changed. I could have never anticipated a photo that on first view made me want to cringe could have changed my life and touched so many. That photo was taken at the finish line of my sixth parkrun and already the joy I was feeling was etched on my face for all to see – a sense of achievement and pride.
Low self-confidence was still a major factor for me at this point, exacerbated when I saw the photo and all I could focus on initially was the wobbly bits – I couldn’t see the joy at that point that others saw. But from the response I got to the photo I gradually looked past the wobble and saw the joy. It felt like a long time since I could honestly have said I felt joyful in something I was doing. I experienced joy in seeing my daughters grow and achieve and with my husband as a team, but not just for me. I think I had lost my way and my self-identity a long time before in daily life and juggling so many different plates, made worse by being over-weight and feeling stuck. Yet here I was every Saturday carving out an hour for myself, to set out and achieve something I set my mind to.
I was truly amazed by the response to the photo. It seemed to speak to so many people and provide inspiration or even just raise a smile, getting nothing but positive affirmations, accompanied by shares, retweets etc resulting in the story and photo going around the world. Renton parkrun, a relatively new one in Washington in the USA recently shared the story on their Facebook page to encourage people to sign up. By being brave and allowing that photo to go out into the ether it confirmed the message that being slow, a bit wobbly is okay and being just in front of the tail walker is okay too.
My life now, a year on looks nothing like it did. The biggest revelation is that I am happy. In the past I seemed to have my life on hold waiting to be ‘thin’ or ‘less fat’, but now I don’t hate what I see in the mirror, I see me for who I am right now – strong, determined and happy. I have achieved so much that I never thought possible. My self-confidence is getting better, I’ve been able to sit on the red sofa at the BBC and talk moderately eloquently about my journey and the joy of running and parkrun (although my kids did say I was embarrassing!). After a brief star struck moment I sat and chatted on BBC Radio 5 Live with Darren Campbell [Olympic champion and radio presenter]. I have completed three 10k runs. I live-streamed my first 10k, the Great Manchester Run through BBC Sport on Facebook Live and we hit 1 million feeds, I was live streamed crying at the finish line as the sense of achievement overwhelmed me (I’m not a pretty crier!). I covered 641 km in 2017, most of them were fun, there was the occasional 5km in snow, sleet and typhoon conditions which weren’t such fun but I got there. I raised £1300 for charities close to my heart. My step-mum who inspired me to start running to increase awareness for cancer and raise money sadly lost her fight just before new year. This reminded me that as a mum, daughter and wife I owe it to myself to make every day count and be happy.
The best bit of all. My friends! The number of friends I have made through parkrun – I cannot put into words how important this has been. I think it encapsulates parkrun for me. Elite runners who can romp a parkrun in 16 minutes cheering you on across the finish line some 30 minutes later. Tail walkers using parkrun as their warm up for ‘big’ runs later in the day but dedicating their time to help and support others. Friends looping back after they have finished to run you home and keep you company. What an amazing community to be a part of.
And here I am, joining the 50 club. I’ve done a few different parkruns across the 50. I did the mecca of Bushy Park in London as part of a girls trip with women I only met through parkrun but who are friends for life now. I did what was listed somewhere as the steepest, Lanhydrock in Cornwall. Seaton in Devon that starts or ends on a pebble beach. Rugby as part of a mothers’ day take over – new friends made there too. I’ve tried flat parkruns, hilly parkruns, parkruns with steep steps, parkruns with deer, cows, geese, last week I finally tackled and beat ‘Angina Hill’ at Heaton Park (yes I cried when I got to the top). All have been amazing thanks to the people, volunteers and friends. But Oldham will be forever where it began, where I tried to chicken out of my first, saying I was too slow and assuming I wouldn’t be welcome – how wrong was I. I love visiting other parkruns but running at Oldham feels like home.
Finally, once again I would like to pay tribute to Val Lovatt. Val is the person who took the original photo, and she deserves so much credit for capturing that moment in time and allowing it to go out free to everyone.
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