parkrun Australia has joined forces with VicHealth to encourage more families to become involved in their local parkrun event as walkers, runners, volunteers and spectators.
parkruns are free 5k community events held every Saturday morning at more than 450 locations around Australia. There is no time limit and everyone is invited!
VicHealth aims to create a Victoria where everyone can enjoy better health and wellbeing, and are working with parkrun Australia to bring more events to more areas of Victoria with a focus on increasing participation amongst less active children, young people and families, and encouraging regular physical activity.
Zoe is living proof from one of those events.
Zoe Azzopardi is not alone: parkrun has revealed connections that have transformed her life.
To celebrate her 50th parkrun, Zoe made sure she stood out. Decked out in red with a tutu for added effect, the nineteen-year-old was difficult to overlook.
The occasion was important for Dorset Recreation Reserve parkrun as well. The event had only started a year prior and it seized the opportunity to recognise one of its key members.
Zoe savoured the acknowledgement of her milestone.
“It was important to feel like I’m thought of. That I’m worth it.”
Yet for years this scene would have been almost unimaginable.
Zoe’s mother, Julie is a regular parkrunner who encouraged but never forced Zoe to come along. As a talented musician, rehearsals for the school band occupied Zoe’s Saturday mornings. And with university beckoning, there was the constant study required for the year 12 exams. Zoe joined her mum for a few parkruns but never attended regularly, and always with her mother.
“I used to be really nervous about going along to parkrun. I’d never go without mum.
“I’d only go if she promised to stay with me. If she wanted to do a hard 5k, I’d say I’m not going.”
When Dorset Recreation Reserve parkrun started in July 2021 it became Zoe’s home parkrun. The event is based in Croydon in Melbourne’s east; a suburb popular with families. As she and her mum started to attend regularly, the family feel of the event started to have a positive effect on Zoe. People would recognise her from work and school and say hello. Zoe began to make connections.
Zoe found parkrun was getting easier. But still, she wouldn’t attend without her mum.
“At school, I was the ‘music kid – the maths nerd’, and the last one to be picked in games.”
“People said I couldn’t run, so I thought, well then, I can’t run.”
“But then I started to get to know people at parkrun, and then I realised that it was not a judgemental place.”
As she got more confident, Zoe started to get quicker. She broke the half-hour barrier and relished collecting new PBs. But her biggest achievement wasn’t a fast time, it was in May 2022 when she finally managed to go to parkrun by herself.
“I surprised mum one day when she was away. I drove myself down and I did the whole thing by myself.
“When I was able to get to parkrun by myself, I felt like I had conquered the world.”
With newfound confidence and a sense of achievement, Zoe strengthened the connections she’d made by starting to volunteer. She’s filled many roles including run director and as a guide for vision-impaired participants.
“Volunteering helps me to get to know people more than just running.”
“I get to talk to every single person who crosses the finish line.”
Zoe says her involvement with parkrun has created bonds and links she didn’t know she had, improving her well-being by allowing her to interact with many different people.
“I get to make connections with people outside of parkrun because of my participation in parkrun.
“When I was really struggling, I felt I was by myself like no one knew who I was.
“The fact that people know who I am, is really special. It reminds me to keep going.”
Do you know someone who might appreciate a gentle helping hand to come along to parkrun for the first time? Why not invite them to come along with you on Saturday! Click here to register for free.
Find your nearest parkrun event here, and check out this video series featuring parkrunners who also took a leap of courage to come along for the first time.
Volunteering can be the perfect gateway to parkrun. Click on any of the volunteer roles here to watch a short video explaining what it involves and how easy it is!
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