Harrison (Harri) Brown is seven years old. Harri loves to run. And Harri, like many other seven-year-old children, loves parkrun.
But Harri is not just any other child. Harri was rushed to Starship Children’s Hospital within an hour of birth for life-saving open-heart surgery for his condition: critical aortic stenosis with severe left ventricle dysfunction.
His parents, Melanie and Rod Brown, look back at those uncertain days with such gratitude that Harri has grown into a strong and fit little boy, and credits parkrun and its inclusive community for fostering his love of running.
A friend, Phil Chapman, suggested Rod and Harri sign up for parkrun in 2018, when Harri was just four years old. “It sounded like a fun thing to do. Harri and I enjoyed running so we signed up to Hagley parkrun, printed off our barcodes and went along. The First Timers’ briefing was amazing. We felt so welcome and included, it felt like a family.”
Three years on, and Harri has 24 parkruns at Hagley under his belt, with a most recent PB of 21:26.
“We checked with Harri’s paediatrician and cardiologist that it was safe for him to participate in the 5km parkruns and they gave him the go-ahead” says Rod. “He’s still not 100% and gets yearly check-ups. His aortic valve leaks, and he will require further heart surgery in the future, but he finds running easy and he just loves parkrun”.
Acknowledging the parkrun rule that ‘Kids under 11 must run with an adult’, Rod has long accepted that he can no longer keep up with his speedy son, and is grateful for the new friends at parkrun who have taken Harri under their wing and run with him on a regular basis.
“We’ve made so many new friends at parkun, many of whom we see each time we’re there” says Rod. “Martin Durney is fondly called ‘Uncle Marty’ by Harri, and has run alongside him at a few events. One particular event Marty did such an amazing job encouraging Harri that Harri managed to run a PB that day. We are so grateful for that.”
Harri’s mum, Melanie has attended with little brother Alex in the buggy, making it a whole-family affair. “We just love the parkrun community. It’s so inclusive. It’s for everyone. Everyone in the family can come along and enjoy it, with dogs, little ones in buggies, anyone. You can walk, jog, run or volunteer. It is what you want it to be. You can run fast and challenge yourself, or you can walk along with friends. We love it!”
Harri has also turned his hand to volunteering on a couple of occasions, enjoying a token sorting role, and marshalling the course.
Unlike many parkrunners, Rod and Harri are not driven by the official parkrun Milestones of 50, 100, 250 and 500 runs. “That’s cool, and I can see why so many people want to achieve that but, for us, our goal is to tell others about parkrun, and to get other families to join up. I believe events like parkrun can help combat obesity, mental health, and support rehabilitation.”
And while they love running at Hagley, the family hope to travel in the future when the boys are older, and visit other parkruns someday. For now, however, they just hope to encourage more families to sign up and discover parkrun.
“We hope our story inspires others. Go along, tell them you are a First Timer, and enjoy the feeling that you belong, straight away.”
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