Nicola Doward plucked up the courage to join her husband and daughter at parkrun, reassured by them that she would be welcomed, not be judged. Nicola tells us her inspiring parkwalk story.
On 19 August 2022, I gathered all of my courage and registered for parkrun. At just under 190 kilograms, the three ‘M’s were a daily battle; morbid obesity, mobility and mortality. I was literally at the point of ‘do or die’.
My husband, Darryl and daughter, Sophie are parkrunners. They’d told me so many times that it was for everyone: all ages, all sizes, all abilities. ‘Sure!’ I thought, ‘but not my size, not my ability.’ I was too embarrassed to even go to watch. Darryl reassured me that no one would judge.
So on 20 August, I turned up and did my first parkrun, well parkwalk! My husband was right (first time for everything!), I did not feel judged. In fact, I can honestly say that the parkrun community is one of the most inclusive, welcoming and encouraging communities I’ve ever experienced.
First of all, I am never last. There is always a tail walker who has that honour. Tracey was the tail walker on my very first parkwalk. She was patient, kind, supportive and so encouraging. Since then I’ve walked with Rob, Kim, Richard, Christina and they have all been incredibly supportive.
My first parkwalk took me an hour and 26 minutes. Not one volunteer made me feel guilty for keeping them out at their posts. They were all genuinely encouraging and supportive. I cried quite a few times during that one. The first tears were exhaustion and fear of not being able to finish, the last ones, at the finish line, were tears of joy because I had actually done it. The volunteers had all stayed, even though the person in front of me finished 30 minutes before. They cheered for me with the same enthusiasm and respect as they do for the front runners! I do not have enough words to express how much I appreciate each and every one of them.
I didn’t expect everyone else to be just as supportive, but they were. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve felt, ‘I can’t take another step,’ and then a fellow parkrunner/walker will give me a nod, a thumbs up, a, ‘well done,’ or, ‘keep going,’ and it fills me with a determination to walk on. On my third time, by about the 4k mark, I literally thought I cannot take another step. A woman appeared from nowhere, walked alongside me, talked to me about how to breathe. She walked me to the finish line and then disappeared. To this day, I don’t know who she was. She wasn’t a volunteer, she’d just done the run herself! I even feared I’d imagined her but my Sophie reassured me that she was real.
I now look forward to Saturday mornings. Darryl, Sophie and I all go. They finish in their own time and then walk back to meet me. Sophie walks alongside me and paces me to get over the finish line. I am just back from my seventh event and I completed the course in one hour and four minutes. I am determined to get under the hour.
Richard, the tail walker, with the gift of holding a conversation when my contributions are single words and grunts, mentioned to me today that parkrun has launched a parkwalk initiative to let people know that you are just as welcome to join in whether you wish to run or walk or do a bit of both. As a walker, I wanted to share my story. If I can do it, anyone can!
Having completed seven parkwalks, I’m by no means a seasoned athlete, but I’m heading in the right direction and even more importantly, I now actually believe I can do this. I look forward to my Saturday mornings. Completing the 5k is still hard but getting to the finish line is the best feeling ever. I notice my mood has improved, my energy levels are so much higher and those three ‘M’s aren’t as much of a battle anymore. I am ‘doing’ and I love it.
So if you have the fear I had, put it to one side. Register. Turn up. Do your best. I guarantee you – it’s so much more than just a walk in the park!
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