Whistler parkrun Event Director Mel Whitley reflects on the season that was. As the parkrun trail becomes a cross-country ski route for the winter, Mel tells us about life in the resort town, how she came to be Event Director, and her plans for Spring 2019!
Life in Whistler can be as amazing as it looks and sounds in the papers, online and in photos, but it doesn’t come without its challenges. Being a transient town people are coming and going frequently; no sooner have you met your new best friend that you do everything with, then they are at the end of their visa and off home or on their next adventure without you. Goodbyes are hard and frequent in this town.
Seasonal work, minimum wage, shoulder seasons and what seems to be the never-ending housing crisis add another set of challenges to “living the dream”. But for an expensive tourist town and world class ski resort, Whistler has no shortage of free and cheap activities for those that dare to search. Thus, enters parkrun… a free community based 5km timed fun run, walk or jog. Held every Saturday morning 9am by awesome volunteers. That’s my usual spiel I say to people as they walk by each Saturday morning as I set up.
I took over as Event Director for Whistler parkrun a few months back. It was never really the plan or even on my radar. I would run on occasion and offered to help with social media, but summers in Whistler are short and sweet and there are many adventures to be had.
Then one weekend I got chatting with some of the Vancouver Run Directors. Travis, who used to direct in Whistler, had just welcomed a new baby and was taking some well-deserved family time, so the amazing team from Richmond Olympic parkrun, Vancouver were kind enough take turns driving up each weekend keep Whistler parkrun from fizzling out. I admired their level of commitment to keep parkrun going, travelling 2 hours each way, each weekend to volunteer. That’s when I decided I wanted to help keep growing parkrun in Whistler and see how big we can get it.
In the beginning, I noticed that at least 80% of people that attended were tourists, usually on vacation, visiting from UK and Australia. I never realized how popular it was over there. Many groups I spoke with had plans to hit up a parkrun in each stop of their vacation. Canada has only been going with parkrun for 2 years so the word is still getting out. But slowly but surely our local numbers grew, and word is spreading!
We’re a small but mighty group. The biggest group I have seen (so far) was maybe 40+ people in summer and averaging around 20 or so every other week. Being a smaller group has it benefits though, it gives you a chance to chat with everyone and hear about their travels, what they do, how many parkruns they have been too, we even had a proposal one weekend with Tom and Sophie from the UK! Smaller groups then need less volunteers to make the run happen each week. I was able to get an awesome core group of running friends together to help me each week and couldn’t have done it without them. You guys ROCK!
We just held our last parkrun for the season last weekend as our trail route turns into a paid XC skiing trail over the winter, not to mention who is going to get up to parkrun when you have a 20cm pow day? I have met so many amazing people during my time as RD, each of them sharing stories of their local parkruns, some sending over articles they have read or even written about parkrun, and ideas for engaging more people. We have big plans for next year to help with getting the word out and gathering a bigger core group of volunteers to make Whistler parkrun a destination run! We will be back in the Spring. BIGGER and BETTER than ever!
I never thought I would get this much fulfilment from getting up each Saturday morning and setting up this event, parkrun does that though. The sense of community and camaraderie that comes from something as simple as sharing a run and a coffee with a group of like-minded people each weekend is truly amazing.
Mel Whitley, Event Director Whistler parkrun
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