Rory Fairfoot has been beating assumptions of his learning disability since he first started going to parkrun with his dad in 2012.
After hitting his 250th milestone, mum Jenny writes how parkrun has helped build his confidence and independence over the last decade.
My son Rory and I have been going to parkrun since 2012. Rory is 26 this month; he has learning disabilities, is non speaking and autistic. He started parkrun with the help of his dad, Monty, who was a regular parkrunner, before he sadly passed away 10 years ago.
Our home parkrun is Norwich and Rory completed his 250th parkrun at this event, but in total he has been to 21 different locations!
Because parkrun has a consistent feel at every location, Rory appears to feel very comfortable at different events. When we visit a parkrun, we usually drop a line to the Run Director in advance, just to alert them that Rory may shoot ahead of me and need some prompting at any turns on the course and at the funnel. Without exception, we have always had the most welcoming responses.
Rory absolutely loves parkrun. He is not a morning person, but he always looks really pleased when we get out his trainers on a Saturday morning. Our local parkrun is such a social and positive experience for Rory who loves being with other people, even though he doesn’t initiate interactions.
parkrun has also really helped Rory’s independent skills and his confidence – he now strides off to the start, usually grinning as he goes, without a glance back for me. He chooses where to position himself and he is consistently very happy to be on his own.
All these things are quite significant for Rory, who is dependent on adult prompts and direction in all aspects of his life.
Our course is three laps; occasionally Rory still hesitates before he turns in for the finish – because he can’t count – but he now feels plucky enough to trust his instincts. He continues to receive huge support from the parkrun core team and other parkrunners. If he stops before the final turn, someone will shout “finish Rory!” and he sprints off.
From time to time, someone will be with him to encourage him to do a personal best. Of course, the concept of a PB means nothing to Rory but he does always look pleased when he has pushed himself.
Over time, I’ve also noticed more people interacting with Rory; it’s sometimes hard for people to grasp that despite the extent of Rory’s disability, he can run a pretty fast 5k!
Rory’s disabilities aren’t visible to a lot of people and when some people find out more about him, they’re usually quite taken aback. So, his participation and achievements at parkrun help to challenge stereotypes and assumptions.
Rory’s experience also illustrates how important it is for people to have the right support, based on their individual needs, to lead the life they want.
Through the format and regularity of parkrun, Rory learnt to complete 5k and to run consistently and safely in a crowd. This meant he could join a running club and is safe with a buddy in all settings.
Without doubt, running is Rory’s favourite activity (with dancing a close second). I’m certain that this is also a major contribution to his physical and mental health.
During the height of COVID-19, Rory was often quite low. He had no understanding at all of what was going on and was clearly very confused that everything including parkrun had stopped.
We carried on with his regular exercise as rules allowed, but I could see he was delighted when we returned to parkrun! As a sole carer, parkrun is a little bit of respite for me each week as I feel others are supporting me in my care for Rory.
parkrun has been the most amazing gift. We had no idea when we started, where this would lead to. He’s a valued team member of City of Norwich Athletic Club, our local running club, and he is a well known competitor on the Norfolk road racing scene.
He absolutely loves the camaraderie at training nights with the club, and at races, where he’s supported by designated team mates. All this is possible because of parkrun!
Rory’s 250th parkrun was a great occasion, and also quite emotional. Rory’s sister had come home to take part and during the briefing, the Run Director gave special mention to Rory and also his late dad.
Oblivious to the fuss, Rory set a new PB and we gathered with friends to celebrate, which he definitely enjoyed.
An added bonus was the number of messages we got afterwards, and seeing clubs and services that he attends sharing his story.
Now, the priority for us is to keep enjoying our Saturday morning parkruns. We hope that this may encourage others to consider walking, jogging, running or volunteering at parkrun.
We love parkrun, it has opened up a whole new world for Rory and we are forever grateful to the parkrun community!
Rory Fairfoot and Jenny Mayne
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