Matthew Akpan’s superpower, Asperger’s Syndrome, has seen him become an esteemed parkrunner and complete some brilliant challenges for charity in memory of his father.
I’ve been running since the age of 13 years old, when I started at the running club in Beeston, Leeds in 2002. Since my first parkrun in 2008, I’ve completed over 330 parkruns at the local Woodhouse Moor parkrun.
I have always been keen to progress and my parkrun times reflected the training I was putting in, but it is the atmosphere and the people that attend parkrun each week which make the event so great for me.
I love that I get to meet like-minded people, who I may never have gotten to meet otherwise and who have encouraged and helped me to achieve my goals.
It was while I was studying my university course in 2008 that I felt the increased onset of my Asperger’s Syndrome. I had failed a module twice and I really felt like something was holding me back.
I discussed the idea that I might have Asperger’s with my family and my mum helped me research the condition, which can cause impaired language and communication skills as well as repetitive or restrictive thinking and behaviour.
In 2013, I was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome and, following a request for support, I was able to continue my studies at a different university. Finally in 2015, I graduated with a degree in Sport, Leisure and Culture.
I found having the Asperger’s diagnosis gave me more insight into who I am, what I wanted to achieve for myself, and how I could help other people to achieve their goals as well.
Social interaction has been a part of the condition that has affected me the most, particularly when I was in my 20’s. After I reached my 30′s, I started to become more outgoing and meet and connect with people on a more frequent basis.
Asperger’s is not widely understood, I see the world differently and I do things differently. I find I educate people about it everyday, explaining the way I do things and why that is.
During the Covid pandemic lockdowns, I started to understand an important side of parkrun, the volunteering. Over this period, I was more keen than ever to maintain my fitness and be ready to parkrun when events were able to restart.
I was also reflecting on how I could possibly help fellow parkrunners, using the running experience I had gained over the years, to help keep others interested and motivated to stay healthy.
When Woodhouse Moor parkrun was able to restart in July 2021, I volunteered for the first time. Since then, I have volunteered many more times and enjoy it so much that I also volunteered at the 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham as a medal presenter and at the last two Manchester marathons.
I consider my Asperger’s to be my superpower. It has propelled me through two Guinness World Record challenges!
The first one was in memory of my father who sadly passed away in 2021. My father and I were avid wrestling fans and often used to watch it on TV together.
I decided to attempt a Guinness World Record for the fastest male dressed as a wrestler at the Yorkshire Marathon in October 2021, and also raised money for a victim support charity. The sense of achievement in my father’s memory combined with the relief as I crossed the end line was tremendous, it might have been the hardest physical challenge I have ever done.
I then achieved my second Guinness World Record in May 2022 for the fastest half marathon again dressed as John Cena. This was at Leeds Half Marathon raising money for a childrens’ charity.
I got a lot of local press coverage and even a message from John Cena, the great man himself, who congratulated me for my efforts and for raising money for the charities too.
I’ve been able to use my superpower to achieve some challenging goals and overcome hurdles, whilst raising awareness of Asperger’s at the same time.
My next parkrun goal is to set up a junior event at a local park in the Leeds area to promote parkrunning amongst the local community. It would be a huge achievement if I can help this event to get started.
parkrun is a great initiative which is welcoming, encouraging and inclusive, continually drawing more and more people in. I recommend anyone to give it a go, whether you want to walk, jog, run or volunteer, you will feel the buzz!
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