In February 2019, a huge monsoonal rain lead to flooding in the Townsville and Burdekin region. Lives were lost, houses were ruined and thousands of families lost all of their belongings. Many families were displaced living in hotels or in lounge rooms of friends and loved ones as their homes were inhospitable. Riverway parkrun (along with Aplins Weir parkrun) were cancelled for over a month due to damage to the pathways along the river.
For Event Director Nicole Boon, the stress of the disaster was not at first realised until parkrun was back up and ‘running’.
“I noticed it in myself first – like a weight lifted off my shoulders but I noticed it in my friends as well – it was like coming home and the relief was obvious. The smiles on everyone’s faces that first day back was extremely rewarding as an Event Director. People were hugging as many hadn’t seen each other since before the rains. People were checking in on each other after such a huge upheaval and I knew this was a huge step in the recovery process for our community. The full impact our little event has on so many people was much more clear to me.” said Nicole.
The physical benefits of parkrun to the community is obvious. What you don’t often notice straight away are the other benefits – the mental ones. Aside from the mental benefit of regular outdoor exercise, parkrun encourages a community spirit – where people support and help each other. It encourages social connections that may not have otherwise occurred. Having a place where people know they can turn up at a particular time and know they will be welcome in a friendly and positive environment is a huge benefit to our mental health and supports our social needs as well.
Riverway parkrun regularly has over 200 to 250 participants each week and each of these people leave parkrun better off and that, inadvertently, impacts other community members in turn.
Riverway parkrun sits beside the Ross River and is named after the precinct where the start/finish area is located. They are currently running an alternate out-and-back course as the pathway is still blocked in one spot due to damage from floodwaters in February this year. The alternate course starts next to the pool, which is currently closed for repairs too.
When visiting make sure you look out for the “turtle bridge”. There are a number of bridges and boardwalks around but this is a point across the river almost directly opposite the Riverway precinct. It’s a cute little bridge with red railings and a great spot to stop and see the turtles in the river – hence the name. It’s currently a very important landmark as it’s where we turn around for the out-and-back course. If you miss it (and the marshal), you’ll keep going to the tavern.
The course is very pretty and the run around the river takes you across bridges, boardwalks and concrete paths. There is wildlife to be seen in the water (turtles, fish and sometimes a little freshwater crocodile) as well as birds around the area (kookaburras, ducks, pelicans, cockatoos). It’s very hot and humid in the spring and summer months but definitely a much more comfortable run in the cooler months.
Event Director Nicole Boon first became involved with Riverway parkrun at their 4th event. As someone who only started ‘learning to run’ a few months prior, was neither fast nor able to run/jog the whole distance. Nicole continues “As I was just starting my running journey, I was looking for a group to join and build my running abilities. I knew of the local running club but was afraid I would be unwelcome as I was not fast enough (hindsight has corrected this false opinion but at the time there was no way I would put myself out like that). My sister-in-law demanded I try parkrun and, fortunately, they had just launched at Riverway not 2kms from my home.”
“She encouraged me to just give it a go and since it was free I had nothing to lose. That Saturday morning was a moment I’ll never forget. After struggling through the 5kms, I was plodding down the final few metres to the finishing flags I heard people cheering. Presuming they were friends cheering for a person behind me, I crossed the line and turned to look back. There was no-one behind me. These supporters were actually cheering me – a stranger and a very slow one at that. I realised I was not only welcome but supported. I went back the next week and it quickly became a habit. I put my name down to volunteer. Then I put my hand up to RD. Then I became ED. This whole time I have tried to do what those wonderful people did for me at my first parkrun – encourage everyone no matter how fast or slow they are. To welcome everyone. To support everyone.”
Nicole’s family now joins in each week and have made so many new friends at parkrun since that day and many are considered like family to them now as well. Nicole explains “I can only hope to share that experience with as many as possible. Mental health, community spirit, social support – parkrun has so many benefits aside from the physical and you can’t not love that.”
Riverway is pram friendly as the course is all concrete or boardwalk and is relatively flat with gentle undulations in spots. They have a number of regular parkdogs each week - and dog bowls for pooch hydration and most bins around the Riverway precinct have rolls of doggie bags for cleaning up. They’re also proudly wheelchair friendly as well. The short finish chute is on the grass, however, our wheelchair athletes are encouraged to finish on the footpath to avoid undue stress and still get a time.
Thanks to Townsville City Council we have a very large free pool right near the finish for jumping into at the end of a hot run. It’s currently closed for repairs due to the damage from the floods but hopes to be back in action later this year.
The Magner family. Father and son, Toney and Andrew, first attended parkrun at Riverway’s second event. Since then, mum Ali has joined in and together the three parkrunners in this family have a total of 626 runs and 50 volunteers between them. Both Toney and Andrew are two of only three people to have achieved the milestone of 250 runs at Riverway. Along with assisting with set-up and pack up of parkrun each week (not an officially recognised volunteer role at Riverway) and supporting other runners, these regulars contribute greatly to this event along with countless other unsung heroes.
Post-run coffee is held at Fat Dogz at Cannon Park which is a couple of blocks from Riverway.
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