On Saturday, Denise Clarke ran her 250th parkrun, and became the first female in the ACT to reach that milestone. Despite being known to hundreds of parkrunners across the ACT and surrounding areas of NSW as a result of her volunteering, many are unaware of her story and the difficulties she has faced just getting out and participating in parkrun.
A keen runner from a young age, Denise regularly represented her school in Athletics and Cross Country. After starting her family, she found less time for exercise but squeezed out some time on the treadmill when she could.
In 2011, eighteen months before parkrun started in Canberra, Denise woke to find her world was in a spin. For reasons still unknown, her vestibular balance had been compromised and her life would change forever.
Denise required assistance 24×7 for the first couple of weeks. The smallest things like walking to the bathroom were difficult but there were plenty of other challenges to come. She found herself constantly dizzy and walking in a straight line was only made easy when hand in hand with her husband Gary.
Gradually, the daily activities of life became a little easier, and the ability to hide her constant dizziness from those around her became an art. However, with walking in a straight line difficult enough, getting back to running was going to be a challenge.
With her much-loved City2Surf race looming, Denise and Gary hit the streets around home. Starting with a walk-jog and building up to a jog-run-walk, Denise learned to keep her upper body as rigid as possible and focus on the side of the path to stay straight. This technique proved problematic for running injuries but allowed her to conquer the 14km of City2Surf.
In 2013, Denise heard about parkrun starting in Tuggeranong, and decided that this “running club” might be a good way to have a run with the support of other people around her. Little did she know how much it would change her life.
Denise fell in love with parkrun, the concept, and parkrun’s philosophy. She quickly started volunteering and discovered just how rewarding it is to help others to get moving.
Almost 6 years later, Denise becomes the first female in the ACT to reach the 250 milestone and has supported hundreds of parkrunners along the way. A seasoned volunteer, she quickly became a Run Director, then Event Director and Event Ambassador. She has helped teams to launch five new events across the ACT and surrounds, and can regularly be found running back out on various courses to encourage those at the back of the field.
Denise knows too well that everybody’s parkrun journey is different, and for many parkrunners, their struggles are invisible to those around them. She is a huge advocate for parkrun, it’s sense of community, it’s inclusiveness and the fact that everyone is equal at parkrun. Whether your 5km takes you 15 minutes or an hour, it’s still 5km.
Congratulations on your 250th Denise.
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