Joanna Dudziak lives in London and is the run director at two locations – Gunnersbury parkrun and Acton junior parkrun. When she moved to the city, taking part in parkrun provided Joanna with an opportunity to get to know her community and enjoy different parkrun locations with her visually impaired friend.
Joanna writes about how parkrun has helped her build confidence and even organise a special event for 12 blind and visually impaired people.
I came across parkrun for the first time in April 2018. At that time, I was on holiday in Poland, in my hometown – Chrzanów. A friend persuaded me to participate and helped with registration. We printed out and laminated my barcode – yes, I still have it! It was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made, but I didn’t start attending parkrun regularly until a year later when I moved to London.
After arriving in London, I saw parkrun as a way to settle in and it was an opportunity for me to meet new people. Gunnersbury parkrun was my local and it was so convenient as it was less than 20 minutes away from my home.
For a long time, I didn’t know what I wanted to do in life. parkrun gave me great development opportunities and allowed me to be a part of my community. It has given me a sense of belonging.
Living alone is difficult and involves many challenges – loneliness is one of them. Moving to another country where you hardly know anyone is hard, but going to parkrun every week has given me the opportunity to meet interesting people, who have become my support group.
I also work with Achilles International, an organisation which aims to encourage people with disabilities to participate in public sports events. I have the honour of working with visually impaired and blind people as a qualified guide.
When I’m able to, I visit different parkrun locations with my visually impaired friend and try to encourage people with various disabilities to go too.
In 2020, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, parkruns had been suspended worldwide. Shortly after reopening, volunteers were hard to come by, so I started organising meetings in Gunnersbury. We tried to make sure that parkrunners could return to normal as soon as possible and continue to enjoy the benefits of parkrun.
Another factor that made me more involved in volunteering at parkrun was the type of work I do. Work commitments only allow me to participate in parkrun on my days off. So I decided that even if I can’t participate in parkrun as a walker, jogger or runner, I can always volunteer.
When I first took on the role of run director, I had doubts. I lacked self-confidence and was worried that I wouldn’t be able to handle the responsibility of coordinating one of the biggest parkrun locations in London.
Since then, my confidence has grown and being a run director gives me the opportunity to work with people of different backgrounds and allows me to constantly develop my social and communication skills. What’s not to like here?
If you are hesitant about volunteering, it’s helpful to contact someone who has already done so. There are many roles and there’s something for everyone.
I go to parkrun every week and even when my local parkrun is cancelled, I always try to help other nearby locations and teams.
Most recently, I helped organise a special event in Bushy parkrun, London. At this particular event, 12 blind and visually impaired people completed the course with the support of their guides. It was amazing to see parkrun’s inclusivity in action and I was proud to be a part of this!
parkrun shows me every week that there is a community of people who want, and work, to make the world a better place. For me personally, volunteering at parkrun is a great way to help your local community.
I received so much support when my mother passed away during the pandemic and while I was recovering from life-saving surgery. When I felt like my world had completely collapsed, parkrun was the only constant thing in my life. It is a place that was there for me every week. Volunteering at parkrun was a form of therapy and rehabilitation for me.
My future parkrun plans are to let the adventure continue. I intend to commit myself to parkrun for a very long time, so we’ll see where else this path will lead me!
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