My 13-year-old son Charlie* recently completed his 80th parkrun. It is now four years since we started our Saturday ‘Dad and Son’ routine, and Charlie’s physical strength, stamina and all-round sporting confidence have been thoroughly transformed thanks to parkrun.
When Charlie was born there was speculation about all manner of nasty diseases, chief among them being Cystic Fibrosis. Charlie confounded the doctors by having not one unifying condition that explained his symptoms, but rather a cocktail of unrelated problems including an undiagnosed strain of pneumonia. So his start in life was a faltering one physically.
As a baby, Charlie was never strong enough to crawl so he never developed the thigh strength or leg coordination needed to run. His school was understanding, but it was still difficult to manage his physical limitations: primary school sports days, for example, were made a bit more tolerable by Charlie holding the finish line tape. With each year that ticked by, it was getting harder to catch up. Even a six-week stint of daily physio at Great Ormond Street Hospital, followed by months of supervised leg exercises, did not put him on equal physical terms with his peers.
At age nine we discovered Charlie was spending every Friday afternoon standing in a quiet corner of the rugby pitch chewing his sleeve. With the agreement of an enlightened sports teacher, I took him out of school weekly for a couple of hours to start running without the pressure of other kids. It was incredibly tough at first: we had tears, threats and pleas. Then we found our local parkrun.
parkrun has been the perfect partner to our efforts as parents to help Charlie. First, we made it part of our weekly routine – it was just something we did, come what may. Second, even if we finished near the back there was always someone behind us, and being able to cheer someone else on for once was brilliant. And our Saturday routines built in some great dad and son time – spurred on by the promise of an ice-cream on the way home!
At school, Charlie now finishes cross-country races in the middle of the pack, which is incredible. parkrun has given him the opportunity and encouragement to persist, and as he starts his teenage years he understands just how far he has come.
A proud dad
* Not his real name
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