Nothing makes me more proud than to see people coming together in healthy pursuits, building relationships and strengthening community. Communities were not my first thought when I started parkrun twelve years ago but it was definitely integral to the initial concept.
Meeting for a coffee with my friends after the run was mainstream to the whole experience. I will admit that this was a selfish endeavour, but looking back now, I see that this is probably one of the most important parts of what parkrun stands for.
At parkrun our mission is “to make the World a healthier and happier place”. We may not have started out with that mission but it feels most appropriate now. Our experience tells us that thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of people have altered their lives for the better because of parkrun. And for most, running is the least significant part of their transformation.
By far and large, it’s the integration with the community, making new friends and expanding our social circles, having someone with a similar outlook on life to lean on and the regularity or habit of turning up for a friendly jog in a park on a Saturday morning that is making the difference.
And now, we are starting to make that difference in the USA too. The USA is significantly different to all our other territories. There are many factors contributing to a slow and steady start which made it complex to expand. However, it’s wonderful to see that we have begun overcoming many of these issues and showing steady signs of growth.
One of the lessons we have learned from our engagement in the USA is that it makes more sense to focus on a single territory rather than try to offer parkruns to all 50 States. This strategy is proving to be correct as we are approach our third event in the DC Metropolitan Area in the last 12 months, making our seventh event in the USA.
Returning to the theme that parkrun contributes to a thriving and healthy community, none of this would be possible without the involvement of some ‘good’ people. People who feel the need to be engaged with their community, to improve the ‘lot’ of folks and to bring out the best of the community. Throughout our journey in the USA we have enjoyed the tireless efforts of a number of people. I am especially grateful to Rick and Lori Brauer who took on the difficult task of delivering parkrun in the USA in 2012.
Our initial USA pioneers also include Karen and Tim Bowler who kicked off with Clermont Waterfront parkrun and Julie Messina who started Durham parkrun. All these folks share the same community spirit that makes parkrun so special and have helped lay the groundwork for our continued presence in the US.
With the recent start of our third event in the DC Area, College Park parkrun on the 15th of October, it feels appropriate to look to the future and remind ourselves of the collective effort of a number of newer parkrunners making this all possible. I first met Henry Wigglesworth, Andres Falconer, Darrell Stanaford and Diarmuid Coughlan in November 2015 after extensive email and skype conversations covering about 5 months. They were collectively determined to establish a parkrun in DC. Against all the odds and with the combined strength of a football team they succeeded with the introduction of Fletcher’s Cove parkrun on the 9th January 2016.
The enthusiasm and drive from these folks and assisted by global ambassador James Kemp has helped us to drive forward our strategic approach for the USA to the point where we are now ready to begin a more rapid expansion of the parkrun footprint. To this effect, parkrun US has a business plan under development, just incorporated as a nonprofit (“parkrun USA”) and is prepared for faster growth from 2017 onwards.
While I am eternally grateful to Rick, Karen, Julie, Henry, Darrell, Andres, Diarmuid and James not to mention all the other folks involved, the thing that makes me most proud is that the spirit of parkrun, what we stand for, how we behave and our contribution to society has been fully translated in the US.
Not only are the US team now receiving weekly confirmation of the life affirming changes people are making because of their involvement in these weekly events but the family is responding in the same manner we have experienced all over the world. You are opening your homes to strangers (parkrunners from far and wide) just as you would your closest family.
Long live parkrun, long live parkrun US.
With my deepest love and appreciation
Paul Sinton-Hewitt CBE
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