parkrun is for everyone. This simple core value means that each Saturday, you’re likely to see people of every age from babies in strollers to octogenarians. Glance at an event’s results page and you’ll see a variety of age groups represented. Look at the photo album to see that no matter what their age, they all share a common facial expression, a smile!
This week, we discussed the parkrun experience with people at different ends of the parkrun age group spectrum.
Last weekend, Leyla Johnson ran along the Cedar River Trail with a white cape fluttering in the wind behind her. A black number 10 was sewn onto the cape, signifying that its junior wearer was on her way to completing her 10th parkrun. By her side, her father kept pace and offered words of encouragement. “The cape gave her some extra wind,” said her father, Nick, after they crossed the finish line. Indeed, she achieved a PB for the effort, more than 10 minutes faster than her first run.
All of Leyla’s parkruns have been in 2018 and all at Renton. It’s safe to say she has earned not only a youth 10 shirt, but “parkrun regular” status. She also earned the “parkrunner of the month” award for April, which put a smile on her face as she was recognized during the run briefing and handed a certificate with her name.
Still relatively new to running, Leyla finds that the encouragement from other parkrunners and volunteers is helpful. “My favorite thing about parkrun is that when I go through the finish line everyone is cheering me on because when people cheer me on I feel motivated to finish strong!” She also receives high fives from big brothers Owen and Jack as they pass each other on the course, as they come to parkrun frequently as well.
5k is a long distance to run for a JW10, so when we asked her who or what helps keep her motivated along the course, she said, “My dad, by saying I can do it because I have done it, and I can do it again.” We’d all do well to remember that on days when we feel challenged!
Leyla has a few words of advice for other kids who may be nervous about running a parkrun: “It takes a lot of practice and you have to work towards it but you can do it!”
We’re thankful that Leyla not only runs at parkrun, but volunteers, too. Whether helping at the finish line or as tail walker, two roles she has fulfilled thus far, she says volunteering makes her feel good. She really likes cheering on other people like they’ve done for her. Her dream volunteer role? Handing out finish tokens. We think we can make that happen.
“They’re truly good people. They are in the park every day helping out, and still find time to give more energy to other organizations.”
Leakin Park parkrun Event Director Doug Jones couldn’t say enough good things about Jo and Ed Orser when he made the introductions for their interview. “I hope you find the two of them as fascinating and compelling as the rest of our community does,” he went on to say.
On a phone call with Jo and Ed, right off the bat, they explained that they’re not really runners. “There are the ‘real runners’ and then there are people like us,” said Jo. Ed added, “We were both active growing up and both played sports, but I ran to first base because I had to.“
So how did this pair of non-runners come to be involved with parkrun? According to Ed, the parkrun initiation came at quite a fortuitous time. In February of 2017 Ed had unexpected bypass surgery, which was followed by cardio rehab in the spring. When parkrun began in June, he started volunteering. “I became the turn-around person. It gave me a nice walk at a leisurely pace and gave me a way to be a part of being around other active people.” When asked why he always volunteered for the same spot, (all of his 32 volunteer occasions have been as turn-around marshal,) he said “The turn-around spot is the loveliest spot on the route. I get a really pretty reward for being a pretty slow walker.” The parkrun crew has lovingly nicknamed their turnaround hill “Mt. Orser” in his honor.
Jo alternates between volunteering and walking with a bit of jogging here and there. “I walk fast,” she said. “When there’s a downhill I might get a little jog, but I like walking and I like fast walking so it suits me.” She will join the 25 volunteer club next weekend and has chipped more than 10 minutes off her time (and achieved six personal bests) over the course of her dozen walks/runs with parkrun.
They both share an affinity toward the woodland park, described by Ed as “the woods behind their house” for the people of West Baltimore. He said that parkrun provides a nice program for the park and is helping to get people into the park on a consistent basis, which is underutilized. Jo hopes that parkrun will attract some new people and increase the number of return visitors to the park.
Both Jo and Ed are active members of the Friends of Gywnns Falls/Leakin Park, and are dedicated advocates for the park and its use. Both organizations share the goal of getting families outdoors and participating in activities together, so it bode well for the Orsers to become as involved as they have. Ed is also President of the Friends of Maryland’s Olmsted Parks & Landscapes, and he serves as resident historian for those who come to parkrun and want to learn more about the park.
While there are just a few others in their age group who come to parkrun, Ed and Jo enjoy interacting with anyone and everyone who is there. Ed spoke of a young boy who frequently attends with his father who greets him with an enthusiastic “Hi, Ed!” when he approaches the turn-around. Ed and Jo were both in the Peace Corps, and they were happy to meet and get to know a young woman who also served and her daughter at parkrun. Ed enjoys seeing the Navy personnel who come regularly. They both also appreciate meeting visitors from far and wide. “We’re always quite surprised with the parkrun tourism; people who come in for sightseeing, hop in an Uber and come up to parkrun. It’s been a real surprise, but a delight when they come,” said Ed.
With such welcoming people as Ed and Jo, who are so invested in the Baltimore and parkrun community, participants are likely to have a wonderful experience at Leakin Park parkrun. Jo’s final thoughts on their parkrun experience thus far: “We have always been campers and hikers. With parkrun being so close to our house we now have opportunity to do our hike every week. The exercise is good for us and so are the enthusiastic and encouraging voices.”
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