There are just 2 weeks until the 2018 Commonwealth Games start on the Gold Coast, however some special parkrunners haven’t been waiting to get involved as they’ve been nominated to take part in the Queen’s Baton Relay. Read on to learn more about them and the stories behind their nominations as we follow the baton around Australia.
In the lead up to each Commonwealth Games, the Queen writes a message calling upon the Commonwealth’s athletes to come together in peaceful and friendly competition. Despite technology advances, she won’t use Skype for delivery this message during the Opening Ceremony. Instead, tradition prevails, and this message is being carefully transported 230,000 kilometres through every Commonwealth country on earth (all 70 of them!) via the Queen’s Baton Relay (QBR).
The QBR symbolically joins people across the globe and is an opportunity to recognise individuals as Baton Bearers who have achieved something extraordinary or inspired others, made a significant contribution to sport, education, the arts, culture, charity or within their community, contributed to a fun, friendly, vibrant and inclusive community or have excelled, or aspire to excel athletically or personally. Multiple parkrunners across Australia have met these criteria and are being honoured with nominations for the QBR. Let the relay begin!
Australian Capital Territory – 26 January
At 4:50pm on 26 January, Kathy Flanagan, a parkrunner since September 2014 and a Tuggeranong parkrun local, received the baton and commenced her relay leg across Kings Avenue Bridge in Canberra. Although suffering from Lupus herself, she has combined her passion for running with her passion for giving to help fundraise for multiple different charities. This included completing a 46km run from Queanbeyan to the Gundaroo Music Festival to raise money and awareness for motor neurone disease which, along with other fundraising efforts, lead to her nomination for the QBR. As Kathy sees it, “I feel I am running for those that can’t and raising funds and awareness at the same time.”
When she first received the email about the relay, Kathy thought it was a spam – it was only when her nominator contacted her to confirm the email’s authenticity that the reality sank in. “I honestly didn’t feel worthy, I feel I am just a normal everyday person doing my bit. It didn’t really hit me until a couple of hours beforehand what an amazing thing it was to be a part of. I loved having my family and friends there to be part of it and to set a good example for my children.”
At the end of the Kings Avenue Bridge, Kathy handed the Baton on to basketball legend Cal Brunton. Just 39 minutes and six Baton Bearers later, a special parkrun duo, brothers Talon and Shea Cass-Dunbar from Gungahlin parkrun, took over responsibility for the baton.
Talon was up first, receiving the baton from sports star Michelle Payne in a very memorable moment. According to Talon, “the highlight of the day would have to have been getting the baton from Michelle Payne and missing our high five 3 times!”. Talon had been nominated because of his positive attitude of never giving up, and because of the more than $110,000 he and his family had raised for charities including Ronald McDonald House and the Cerebral Palsy Alliance.
“I was thrilled to have the chance to represent Australia but mainly I was just happy that I would be doing it with my brother and would have my family there to cheer me on.”
Talon got to pass the baton to his brother Shea, the next baton bearer, who was waiting for him in Commonwealth Park beside Lake Burley Griffin. Their baton pass went off without a hitch and there was time for a few family photos. For Shea, “my highlight was getting the baton from my bro! It was pretty special carrying it through Commonwealth Park during the Australia Day concert as there were lots of people watching me.”
Shea had been nominated for the QBR by his parents to honour his personal achievements including goals like climbing the Statue of Liberty and Mt Kosciusko even though he has Cerebral Palsy and other disabilities.
New South Wales – 2 February
Seven days later in Forster Tuncurry NSW, Brooke Hosgood from Taree parkrun was ready to go. At just 11 years of age, Brooke had just completed her 117th parkrun with the Saturday morning 5km run now part of her weekly routine. According to her mum, Brooke was a bundle of nervous energy as she waited for the baton, but this energy brought her an extra vibe that radiated during her leg of the relay. “She was so totally happy and overwhelmed with the experience, absolutely loved it.”
Brooke has achieved a lot so far with running and loves the challenge it brings. Recent achievements have included coming first female in the Camden Haven Princess of the Mountain event and first female at the Forster Running Festival.
Brooke’s other great passion is to volunteer and she has volunteered as the scanner, marshal and helped run direct at Taree parkrun since her first parkrun way back in June 2015. For Brooke, parkrun is somewhere to go and enjoy healthy fun with a mix of people and dogs in a safe and encouraging environment.
Victoria – 11 and 14 February
On the other side of the Murray River, Bernie Larsen – Sale parkrun’s co-Event Director – helped keep the Baton on track through the town of Morwell. Originally completing her first parkrun in England, Bernie helped get the Sale parkrun going in April 2015 as well as helping establish the Sale and Districts Runners – a local running group that now has a phenomenal 350 members! It is her contribution to help running in the community that led to her nomination for the QBR.
“I was, and still am, completely overwhelmed by the gesture, and absolutely honoured and humbled to be thought worthy of the honour. The whole experience was like a beautiful dream. Hearing the wonderful achievements of the other baton bearers, I definitely felt very honoured to be amongst such wonderful contributors to our society. When it was my turn… I was nearly jumping out of my skin with excitement and emotion! I was filled with so much love for my family, and friends, including my awesome buddies from Sale and District Runners. It was an incredible buzz to see them there to cheer me on. The run itself was one of the happiest moments of my life.”
With her relay leg now over, Bernie is getting set for her next contribution to the Commonwealth Games – “I am looking forward to the athletics events, and particularly the marathon. I am fortunate enough to have been selected as a volunteer at the Games and will be working at the Marathon. What a way to round off my Commonwealth Games experience!”
Allan Connolly, Shepparton’s ED, celebrated his Valentine’s Day in a unique way three days later by completed his leg of the Queen’s Baton Relay in Shepparton. He had been nominated by a number of people in his local community for his contribution to health and fitness promotion through parkrun and other activities and said the honour was very unexpected. For Allan, there were so many highlights on the day including sharing the event with his family and friends, with the main highlight being to carry the baton whilst seeing everybody cheering and waving. Being part of the Games was a real privilege for Allan who loves the Commonwealth Games. “I love watching all events of the Commonwealth Games and I will certainly be spending a lot of time in front of the TV while the Games are on!”
South Australia – 18 February
Renmark parkrun founding ED, Annette Aston, like several others in the QBR before her, had been nominated for bringing parkrun to her local community. Renmark parkrun opened in July 2016 and more than 4,500 individual parkruns have been completed there since then.
As Annette was so passionate about having a parkrun in her area, she didn’t really think much of starting one up – it was just something she wanted to do. Being nominated for the QBR, however, gave her a chance to reflect and see the effect parkrun has had on people and she feels it has definitely been worth it!
And participating in the QBR itself? “The whole experience was absolutely amazing – it would be hard to pinpoint a highlight. But if I had to, probably stepping off the bus at my relay leg and seeing all the people who have come to support little old me in carrying the torch.” Annette also can’t wait to watch the games – her husband’s cousin Nicole Seekamp (a former Renmark local) is playing for the Opals in Basketball! Go Opals!!
Western Australia – 26 February
Over in WA, Gary Wilmot, a parkrun Event Ambassador and former Canning River parkrun Event Director, did his bit for the relay carrying it along the South Perth Esplanade beside the Swan River. Gary had been nominated by Renee Russell, Varsity Lakes ED for his epic walk / run from Perth to Brisbane in 2015 to raise funds for Hearts across Australia. Yes, from Perth to Brisbane, on foot – that’s 5,400km and a lot of shoes…
Gary found his baton bearer day to be an incredible mix of feelings. “Exciting, surreal, emotional and absolutely a once in a lifetime experience. It was a very proud moment, and an incredible thing to be part of. I will remember that day for the rest of my life.”
And exactly one month after Kathy Flanagan from Tuggeranong parkrun carried the baton in Canberra, it was passed on to Shirley Treasure – the founding ED for Australia’s first “Q” parkrun, Quinns Rocks parkrun. Shirley had originally discovered parkrun at WA’s Lake Joondalup parkrun but had found rallying up the kids in time to travel all the way there was a bit of a battle. Having a parkrun right on her doorstep seemed like a sensible solution.
Setting up the Quinns Rock parkrun, volunteering extensively for Perth running events, coaching a primary school running club and promoting mental and physical health led to Shirley’s nomination for the QBR. “With such a large number of nominations I was over the moon when I was contacted and of course I accepted the nomination straight away. It’s a once in a lifetime experience.”
“From start to finish, it was a rollercoaster of emotions. It was amazing to meet all the other local legends who were chosen to be baton bearers. The bus to and from our relay spot was a hoot, we called it the party bus as we were singing, chanting and high five-ing the whole way. We stopped at schools and got to high five the kids. Everyone cheering made us feel like rock stars.”
And although Shirley is an avid runner, she chose to do something a little different for her relay leg. “When I got the baton handed to me the music was pumping and emotions were high. The police officer told me I needed to brisk walk or jog my section. I replied “Can I dance?” He laughed and when I started dancing with the baton he said “Yup, that’ll work!” so I continued to dance and danced the whole way. It’s an experience and a day I will never forget.”
Shirley’s favourite event to watch out for during the games will be the marathon. In advance of the marathon though, she’s really looking forward to seeing the Baton that she helped carry (through dance!) arrive at the opening of the games so the Queen’s message can be read to all the athletes.
Queensland – 19, 28 and 31 March
And who should be up next? None other than parkrun Australia’s Chief Executive Officer, Tim Oberg! Having completed his first parkrun in Wimbledon Common in the UK way back in 2010, Tim decided he’d bring parkrun to Australia launching the first parkrun in April 2011. Fittingly, Australia’s first parkrun opened on the Gold Coast with the same city hosting the Commonwealth Games due to start in less than two weeks.
Tim’s relay leg was completed in Airlie Beach, where he now resides and he feels very honoured and excited by his nomination. “My Mum’s come up from Brisbane to watch and so I think she’ll be pretty chuffed, and my kids (Jack 5, Evie 4 and Archie 1) will think it’s pretty cool.”
And another fun fact about parkrun Australia’s founder? He used to compete in Olympic weightlifting and now enjoys CrossFit. So what event will he be most eagerly anticipating during the Commonwealth Games? “I’ll say Tia-Clair Toomey who is the reigning CrossFit Games champion and will be competing in the women’s 58kg division of the Weightlifting on the Gold Coast.”
So many parkrunners have been recognised for their community contributions and taken part in the QBR already, yet there’s still more to come…
Ian Wickham, founding ED of Highfields parkrun and an Event Ambassador will be stepping up to the mark on Anzac Ave in Toowoomba at 3:16pm on the 28th March. Neen Gibson and the Event Team at Highfields nominated Ian. “Because of his insight, combined with his enthusiasm and dedication, what we have seen Highfields parkrun become is nothing short of amazing! Ian is incredibly proactive, passionate and supportive of everyone in our parkrun family, and this nomination is to formally recognise his contribution to the Highfields Community.”
“I feel very, very humbled”, Ian said. “I’m involved in parkrun because I love running and I love my community and this is one way I can give back. To me I have just been doing my job. Sometimes I do it great and sometimes I could do it better. But to be recognised by my RD team is very special! I have a few friends and family coming. My two boys will be there too. Seeing them and then catching up with the other well deserved QBR participants will be very exciting!” About 500 people complete Highfields and Toowoomba parkruns each week so it may well be that more than a few friends and (parkrun) family there on the 28th March to see Ian complete his relay leg!
Rachel Allworth from Panania parkrun, Sydney is also eagerly awaiting her relay leg. She’ll take up the baton at 2:52pm on Vernon Terrace in Teneriffe, Brisbane, just a few days before the Games begin. Rachel, like many of the other parkrunners taking part in the QBR has a clear passion for running and this led to her nomination. She has done a lot of volunteer work in her local community helping people get fit and take up running. Prior to starting up Panania parkrun she also had a free Learn to Run group which was very popular and spread to multiple locations in Sydney.
For Rachel, one of the things she is most excited about is having her family and friends travel up to Brisbane from Sydney with her to see her take part. “I will be a part of something so exciting that not many people will ever get to do and have my family and friends there to cheer me on. A story to tell the future generations for sure!”
Congratulations to all the parkrunners, both those above and the many others out there that have been nominated for the Queens Baton Relay! Thank you for all the amazing things you have done for your community and all that you’ve achieved
Today I completed my 100th parkrun. Over 3 years, at 9 different parkruns, in 3 different countries, I have clocked up 500km. parkrun has changed my life, at 50 I am fitter than I have ever been. While I used to struggle to run 500m, this year I have completed four 10km runs, 2…
Alfie Grice was born with a rare birth defect that means he has severe developmental and learning difficulties. His dad, Mark, tells us how important parkrun has been for Alfie, and the special moments they have experienced together as a family in their local park. My son Alfie, aged six, was born with…