Hi, I’m Miriam from Phillip Island parkrun in Victoria. I come from a military family – during World War II my father trained with paratroopers and my uncle was a ‘Rat of Tobruk’. They never spoke about their service, and I remember talking to people my father trained with who were still traumatised by their experience.
More recently, my nephew is with the Royal Australian Air Force in Sale, however he may soon be medically retired due to Post Traumatic Stress and Parkinson’s disease.
When parkrun events were paused in 2020 my nephew and I did a (not)parkrun together on the Sale parkrun course during Veterans Health Week. It really underlined for me how personnel such as my nephew can benefit from activities such as parkrun that keep people engaged in the community and physically active in a non-threatening environment.
parkrun is the antithesis of the military. You can choose when to take part, how to take part and what to talk to people about, depending on how you feel on a particular day. If you want to escape from military life and focus on your environment you can do that, or if you want to talk to someone there are plenty of opportunities. Importantly, people are only interested in what you want to tell them.
For me, parkrun came at a time when I wasn’t entirely happy in my job and going through a change. I started a new job which put me into the public eye, which for someone who had always been a private person was proving a challenge. I was also used to the anonymity of living in a city and not used to living in regional areas where people would recognise me.
I used parkrun at first to enjoy being in a beautiful environment on an island surrounded by water and natural vegetation, running alongside highland cattle. Gradually I got used to recognising familiar faces and became less nervous about being recognised.
This newfound confidence led to me volunteering. Helping out at parkrun was a big deal for me and it did freak me out at first because it meant standing around with people I didn’t know for an hour and making conversation. My first experience was handing out tokens and, surprise surprise, I didn’t die. I stayed for an hour. I talked to people I didn’t know. I had fun.
A couple of months later I volunteered again and started to realise it actually felt really good, and I’m now the proud wearer of a parkrun volunteer shirt having helped out on 25 occasions. Through volunteering I really started to appreciate properly for the first time why parkrun is an activity that literally anybody can be involved with.
At Phillip Island parkrun we have a woman in her eighties who walks, who recently completed the course in less than one hour for the first time. Some people chat the whole 5km, others prefer to keep to themselves. Some people always walk, others always volunteer. Some people run every week unless they are injured and they volunteer instead.
Due to our location we get lots of visitors – ‘parkrun tourists’ who travel to different locations to do parkrun and get a window into the community they’re visiting. I’ve made friends with parkrun tourists.
The most important thing I’ve learnt however is that parkrun is absolutely not just about running – everyone is there for their own purposes.
The camaraderie of parkrun makes it one of the most inclusive, friendly and encouraging activities I’ve ever been part of. There’s a place for everyone.
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