At just 34 years old, and after three years of hard work and waiting, Karishma had finally achieved her goal – running the whole 5km at parkrun. Now she was being told she should no longer run. parkwalk has given her the motivation to keep going.
When Karishma Kulkarni arrived in Australia from India early in 2019, she knew she needed to improve her health. She was overweight, her fitness was poor, and a sore back limited her movement.
As a skilled migrant, she required health insurance coverage. It was an article on her insurer’s (parkrun Australia’s presenting partner Medibank) website where she first heard about parkrun. The thought of a community-run event was appealing, but wasn’t it all about running? Karishma didn’t and couldn’t run.
By changing her diet Karishma began to lose weight, and she began to start walking in Melbourne’s Princes Park. It was there she encountered parkrun again.
“I would just look at the people running – it looked like so much fun, and I would think ‘yeah, that’s not going to be me any time soon’.”
With time Karishma’s general health improved and she lost a lot more weight. Her walks around the park started to include small parts of running.
“Maybe, I could start parkrun,” she thought to herself.
This was early 2020, and thoughts of taking part in parkrun evaporated as the COVID lockdowns started.
By the time parkrun returned, Karishma felt she was ready to take part but was nervous about running with other people faster than herself, as well as her ability to cover the distance.
“I remember going up to one of the volunteers and saying ‘I want to come along to the next one, but I’m not sure if I can run the whole 5km.’
“It was so reassuring to be told that I could walk, or walk and run – whatever I felt comfortable with.”
So finally, after two years of learning about and observing parkrun Karishma was able to take part in her first event at Princes Park.
It wasn’t long before Karishma was finishing each parkrun with more running than walking. Eventually, she was able to run the whole 5km.
But her back still hurt.
Karishma had dull back pain for many years, but it was getting worse. Was it the running?
“I thought there might be something wrong with my posture, I went to a physio but they weren’t sure and suggested I see a doctor. They said the pain was something I should take seriously.”
Ankylosing spondylitis is a type of arthritis that attacks the spine – the main symptom in most patients is lower back pain and while there is no known specific cause, genetic factors seem to be involved. It’s a condition that Karishma’s mother suffers from and the doctors said that it was likely that Karishma had it as well.
“I asked the doctor what I should do and they said it would need further investigation.”
The doctor’s next statement was more chilling. ‘You should probably avoid running now.’
It has been a long journey for Karishma. Her first parkrun after years of hard work and waiting. Then the achievement of finally being able to run the whole 5km. Being told to stop running left Karishma despondent.
“It was just heartbreaking because I thought about how I had just started running and how the parkrun community was so warm and welcoming. I just felt so disappointed.”
And then came parkwalk.
“I went to parkrun with my friend knowing that I could only walk, and heard the run director talking about parkwalk.”
“I thought parkwalk was like a sign from the universe.”
“It was like parkrun was talking just to me, saying that even if I’m walking, I’m still participating and still a valued member of the community.”
Karishma says the parkwalk initiative has brought her fresh enthusiasm. She now plans to take part in more events both in Australia and globally.
“I feel a sense of hope, knowing that parkrun wants and encourages more walkers.”
“parkwalk has brought happy tears to my eyes.”
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