After Kathryn Emmerson was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, returning to parkrun became her dream.
Seven years on, she’s made her comeback as a Nordic Walker. Here’s her story of determination, happy tears, and feeling like herself again.
Saturday 24 July 2021 was my first parkrun for seven years, and my first at Torbay Velodrome parkrun.
When I started parkrunning I enjoyed it for the opportunity to exercise and be with others, but I wasn’t someone who went along every week. I would parkrun and volunteer at the Killerton event when going to visit an old friend who lived on the Devon/Dorset border. It’s a glorious course across the Killerton National Trust estate near Exeter, over farm and woodland, with the scenery constantly changing through the seasons.
I remember that parkrun founder, Paul Sinton-Hewitt, saying that he originally founded parkrun for somewhat selfish personal reasons – to be with his friends, and have a community around him when he needed it the most, and then it became much much more. This was exactly how I would come to think of parkrun too.
With the diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease and the deterioration of my health, I gradually stopped doing the parkrun and I missed it. It had slowly seeped into my soul. I used to sit and think about the glorious autumn colours of the course, the animals dotted around and the sometimes very wet and muddy walkers, joggers, runners and volunteers that I shared it all with.
The development of rigidity and a dragging right leg meant that eventually running was no longer an option for me. After 35 years of continuous training this was very hard to take, but take it you must.
After a time of mourning for my lost health, then a period of trying to destroy it even further, I got up one morning and promised myself I was going to do parkrun again and I began to look at ways to fight back.
Exercise, according to the research, is the key to delaying the disease, holding back the symptoms for as long as possible, alongside medications. To me, these words were sweet indeed and I embarked on a carefully thought out programme of exercise based on guidelines from the European and North American Parkinson Associations.
It is hard work, seven days a week, involving specialist as well as aerobic, strength and flexibility exercise.
parkrun had been a dream, but as the bulk of my aerobic work was on an elliptical machine in the gym, or on a bike (three wheels) it did not seem possible.
I recently discovered Nordic Walking and after a few lessons I started to think about testing my progress as my technique and fitness were improving. I was overjoyed to find that Nordic Walkers are welcome at parkrun and I waited impatiently for the return of the events after lockdown.
The appointed day arrived and with planning akin to a war campaign I found myself at the start of my local Torbay Velodrome parkrun.
It was just as friendly, just as welcoming and just as enjoyable as I remembered. I felt completely at home from the start, listened carefully to the newcomers briefing, smiled a lot and then we were off. I felt like me again, so happy to be part of the active community, normal, accepted, not stared at.
I did it, supported and encouraged by my long time friend and running partner, Eileen. We shared the tears at the end. It lived up to every expectation and I am so grateful that parkrun is there for me and for everyone who needs it.
I’m so grateful to many others including; my personal trainer, Adonis Vamvoukakis, at the gym I attend, Jenny Baker my specialist neurophysiotherapist and my training partners at the Devon Nordic Walking group who all helped me in numerous different ways to get to that start line.
I have walked it twice more recently and also volunteered as a marshal, which was just as enjoyable as walking. I don’t look too far ahead but my Saturday morning medicine will be taken for as long as possible.
This week we celebrate our third birthday and what a three years it’s been! CONTRA was founded in 2018 by Paul Sinton-Hewitt, born out of the desire to encourage anyone who wants to become more active to feel comfortable and look great in their sportswear no matter their shape or size. All of…
parkruns are community events delivered every weekend by volunteers. Anyone and everyone can be a volunteer. You need no prior experience and you can volunteer regularly, or just once in a while. All the roles are explained to you on the day, it’s super easy, fun and rewarding. Plus you get to feel a part…