College Park parkrun in Maryland has had a remarkable first year. We check in with event directors Colin Phillips and Andrea Zukowski to learn about the impact that parkrun has had on their community, and on their lives.
When we launched College Park parkrun one year ago, we could not have imagined the year that lay ahead. Our community has embraced parkrun so warmly that it now feels like part of the fabric of the community, part of a broader wave of optimism in the city. And for us as event directors it has been a whirlwind of a year. Although parkrun is not a cure for cancer, it made a year touched by cancer incredibly rewarding.
A few recent quotes from regular parkrunners capture the impact of the parkrun in a way that numbers never could.
Inspiration: 4-year old Xander Mease is a regular at College Park parkrun. In this story his mom Tara explains how running helps him control his cystic fibrosis [Photo credit: Stephen Voss/Wall St Journal]
When College Park parkrun launched one year ago our core team had two main things on our minds. First, relief at finally making it to the start line. It had taken 10 months to jump through the various hoops needed to get the event going (permits, insurance, fundraising, etc.; parkrun USA has since removed some of these hoops). We had organized 33 proto-parkruns along the way, utterly low-key affairs where we were joined by anywhere from zero to a dozen people. Second, apprehension about being able to pull off an event every week, year round. Would people keep showing up, even in the cold of winter or the hot, humid summer? (Yes, in ever greater numbers.) Would we somehow find enough volunteers every week? (Yes, because of the wonderful community support.) Would we get burned out? (Not even close.)
This course map in cake form celebrated the first birthday of College Park parkrun, on October 21, 2017
Our parkrun community was a key source of support when, 8 months after the launch, Andrea was diagnosed with kidney cancer. The tumor may have had its origins in a time when she was an overweight non-runner, but her new strength as a runner helped her surgery and recovery, and gave her doctors great confidence in her outlook. Our parkrun family kept us happy and motivated throughout. The day after her surgery, Andrea was excited to look at results and pictures from parkrun, while struggling to walk 50 feet down the hallway. By one week later she was back at parkrun, making it around the 5k as tailwalker and photographer, in her slowest parkrun time of 1 hour 8 minutes.
Can’t stay away: event co-director Andrea Zukowski (right) walked the course with the tailwalker one week after kidney cancer surgery, August 5th 2017
The weekly parkrun has helped to make College Park a healthy community, in many ways.
College Park parkrun gets people active. Around a thousand have taken part, with over 200 people joining us at least 5 times already. In a city more known for big spectator sports (University of Maryland football and basketball), College Park parkrun may already be the largest participation sports activity in town. Most of our regulars are not people who would be doing regular running events otherwise. And the event has got people volunteering in large numbers. Most of the regular parkrunners are also volunteers.
Pillar of the community: Course marshal Hump Plotts is such an institution at College Park parkrun that we named his regular spot after him
College Park parkrun is helping to change perceptions of the community. Our beautiful trail, friendly vibe, and welcoming post-run coffee meetups help residents and local visitors to feel good about the city. College Park parkrun was featured in a Wall St Journal article in July. Other communities are now looking to emulate what has happened in College Park, locally and nationally.
Social: The weekly post-parkrun meetups regularly draw 20-30 people to The Board and Brew, a favorite local coffee shop [Photo credit: Stephen Voss/Wall St Journal]
College Park parkrun is making hundreds of new personal connections. And it is helping to bring organizations together, including the city and university communities. We have staged a few events together with the Prince George’s Running Club, a very inclusive local running group. We have partnered on trail cleanup and tree planting events with the Prince George’s Department of Parks and Recreation. And a couple of other events have been put on in partnership with the University of Maryland, including their Homecoming 5K, where the star of the show was Testudo, the much loved university mascot (“Fear the Turtle!”).
Fear the Turtle: Testudo, the University of Maryland’s beloved turtle mascot, came to College Park parkrun when they hosted the Homecoming 5K on October 28 2017
The main thing that we have learned over the course of the past year is that a successful parkrun is all about community building, even more than it is about running or walking. It’s nice that it is free, but that doesn’t get people out of bed on a Saturday morning. It’s cool that parkrun has a huge international reach, and that you sometimes meet “parkrun tourists” from far away. But it’s the family and friends that keep people coming back for more.
Colin Phillips and Andrea Zukowski
co-Event Directors, College Park parkrun
College Park parkrun: Quick Facts.
Largest event: 180
Time range: 14:57 (parkrun USA record) to 1hr 15mins
Cost: $0 to participants
Partnerships: Prince George’s Running Club, University of Maryland, Prince George’s Parks
Awards: College Park Rotary Club “Service over Self” award; University of Maryland Office of Community Engagement “Community Champion” award
More about College Park parkrun
Wall St. Journal: parkrun lovers ask: Why pay to run a 5K?
parkrun USA: For Xander, parkrun is where running is about other people, rather than cystic fibrosis
Video: Good Neighbor Day at College Park parkrun
Blog posts: Creating a parkrun USA event; and 6-month update
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