Feeling overweight, uncomfortable and unable to take a breath while tying his shoelace, Simon Whitley made a life-changing decision to leave the fast food café where he stood in 2017 – and go for a walk.
Fast forward to today and Simon is celebrating having completed more than 90 parkruns across 14 different locations, and credits parkrun for saving his life.
Simon’s struggle began 20 years earlier, after being hit by a car while crossing the road. “I broke two bones in my neck, four in my back, smashed all the ribs off my sternum, broke my leg in two places, my arm and my wrist, and suffered severe lacerations to my head and back,” said Simon. “I spent four months in a specialist spinal ward in hospital where they had to teach me to walk again. I then spent six months in a wheelchair, another year on crutches, and then a few years using a walking stick.
Over time, Simon continued to put on weight while also suffering bouts of depression until the final straw – feeling so overweight that reaching to tie up his shoelace seemed impossible.
After leaving the fast food restaurant where he’d planned to have dinner, Simon went for a walk and the following day he installed the ‘Couch to 5K’ app on his phone.
As luck would have it, not long after that, parkrun launched in Simon’s hometown of Gawler, in South Australia.
Simon was among the first to register and take part in his local parkrun that year and has been a regular ever since, attending other local events and volunteering when he can.
Over the years, however, recurring injuries from the accident saw Simon battle against deteriorating mental health, become increasingly withdrawn and have suicidal thoughts.
Simon said, “turning up each week at 7:40am to run, walk or volunteer has given me a reason to get out of bed each Saturday morning.
“From 20 years ago not knowing if I’d ever be able to walk properly again, I’ve so far managed 90 parkruns at 14 different events and taken up trail running where I’ve competed in distances from 10-16km. I’ve even completed a half marathon!
“I believe parkrun has not only turned my life around with my physical fitness, but saved my life, by giving me a reason to live – knowing that my name is on the volunteer roster at Gawler parkrun and so I have to be there on the Saturday morning so I don’t let everyone down. I’ve met so many wonderful people through not only running and walking at parkrun but volunteering too,” Simon said.
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