Paul Sinton-Hewitt, parkrun Founder and friend of Noel and Lian, shares how integral the pair were to the inception of parkrun New Zealand and the legacy that they will leave behind as they move on from their roles at parkrun New Zealand.
I’ve known Noel and Lian since before Caitlin and Kelly arrived on the scene. Noel was someone I looked up to as a work colleague and athlete. I used to see him in the corridors of power at the bank where I worked and then again as he ran past me on our local hill “Top Star”. I secretly constructed a plan to meet him but first I had to learn to run as fast as he did. It took a few months but I remember the day when I was invited to run with him. That was sometime in 1983. Shortly after this, I was invited to the De Charmoy residence where I got to know Lian. It was at that time that my lifelong friendship began with both of them. I spent more Saturdays at Noel’s house, drinking tea and eating Lian’s speciality cakes than I did at home. Noel and I became very close, running, cycling and sharing personal situations.
Then I moved away from South Africa and later Noel, Lian, Caitlin and Kelly moved to Auckland. In 2004 I started parkrun and began growing it across the world. Australia, Ireland and South Africa were all growing well but we didn’t yet have an event in New Zealand. Noel and Lian visited the UK in 2009 and I convinced Lian to run at Bushy Park. Noel was now a cyclist and although his running pedigree is incredibly impressive, he decided to watch. I began working on them about a future where parkrun would exist in New Zealand. The following year I attended Noel’s 50th birthday, something that he wasn’t expecting. We visited Cornwall Park, paced out 5km and carried on the negotiations.
I invited Noel and Lian to start parkrun in New Zealand. I asked them to establish parkruns wherever possible and to do this as volunteers. It would take loads of their personal time, loads of negotiation and generally lots of hard work. In return, they would be able to take part every week in a free event in their local park. I guess they just got tired of me asking and agreed to do it!
I am so impressed with what Noel, Lian and Caitlin have achieved. I could not have asked for more from them. They have established a very successful parkrun territory from a position where parkrun was not at all well known at all. They have built an incredible community and it is always a delight to meet someone from the New Zealand parkrun family. New Zealand is a prize destination for all uber parkrun tourists.
Now the time has come for Noel and Lian to hand over the reins. I often compare my journey at parkrun with that of our country managers. They start these free, weekly, timed events managed by volunteers not knowing whether it will work or not. If the country is ready for such an invasion? But with hard work, perseverance, dedication and complete passion to ensure that parkrun remains what I created, they succeeded and often without a thought of reward. At some stage it is time to pass it on to the next person who will grow the legacy. It’s a very tough thing to do. Stopping. Handing over. Moving on. However, as you can all see from my experience, the legacy is protected, it grows and before you know it, it’s a colossal living monument to all that’s good about people, movement, society and community.
And so to Noel and Lian I say: I promise that your legacy will remain strong, that it will continue to grow and that you will forever be intertwined with parkrun in New Zealand. Inseparable. For this I thank you. I thank you and Caitlin and Kelly and all the members of your family and friends who have dared to support you on this journey. As you say, it is farewell and not goodbye.
And finally, regardless of parkrun, you remain my closest friends. I love you all.
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