“How can we bring parkrun to Seattle?” was the burning question one morning in April 2016. Tucked away in a Starbucks meeting room, three women huddled over a phone looking at park maps while wondering out loud about start dates, sponsors, marketing, and the resources they would need to make parkrun happen. It would be 20 months before their parkrun dreams were realized.
Though there was a lot of energy in the beginning, enthusiasm would eventually fatigue and by October 2016, only one team member was left. Through that winter, Kortney Thoma would reach out to four different cities with a parkrun proposal but none of them would work out. By March 2017 – a full year since starting this project – Kortney was still without a park. Would parkrun ever happen?
Jeremy Moschner: “I used to attend parkrun when I lived in Australia two years ago. Now that there’s one here in Renton, I’m finally getting back into running.”
With the encouragement and support of country manager Darrell Stanaford, her focus shifted from finding interested park managers to building influential relationships with well-connected community members. It was a strategy that would pay off. By the end of the month and with more degrees of separation than Kevin Bacon, Kortney had a well-connected contact who would introduce her to Renton parks department. By June 2017, with a permit in hand and a growing team of volunteers, the tone of conversations had shifted from ‘if’ to ‘when’.
Jimmy Thomson: “Jess was the main inspiration to get out of bed and go along, at least in the beginning. Now, since it wasn’t so bad the first time, it’s good to have some regular nudges or checkpoints to keep up with jogging.”
That month, Cathryn Burby, an experienced community organizer and a leader in forming parkrun’s national partnership with the American Cancer Society, moved west to Seattle from Virginia and offered her help to the Renton parkrun team.
“My involvement with parkrun started as a professional relationship, but it’s become so much more,” said Cathryn. “It was how I finally broke out of a bubble I had created around myself after personal tragedy. I lived a pretty insular life for a few years, socially speaking, but through parkrun I started making friends again. It’s given me a way to meet new people in a new city after moving cross-country, and it’s given me a way to utilize my skills in a volunteer capacity while I plan my next career move. It has given me so much so I’m glad to be able to give back and bring more people into the fold who will, no doubt, benefit in their own ways, too.”
With her talent for words, her smooth presentation skills, and her friendly personality, Cathryn helped expand the volunteer team’s reach and brought on Renton parkrun’s most generous community partner to date: Peak Sports & Spine Physical Therapy. “We’re supporting parkrun because it’s a great organization and a way to get people out and moving. A lot of people are afraid of going to races but parkrun is for everyone, not just people who’ve been running for their whole lives,” said Russell Kowalinski, Director at Renton Peak Sports & Spine.
With Kortney’s groundwork, Cathryn’s fundraising experience, and a team of six more volunteers to spread the word about parkrun, the team agreed on a launch date: November 18. In the lead-up to their inaugural event, the Renton parkrun team have hosted several trial runs on the Cedar River Trail to collect feedback on the course and build enthusiasm among the community.
Beth Harriet: “It’s been wonderful to meet my neighbors and be part of a community where people can enjoy the outdoors and exercise together.”
Their most recent trial event on October 28 attracted 35 attendees including Renton City Council member Ryan McIrvin. “Renton is very fortunate to have a fantastic network of parks and trails in our city,” Ryan said, “including the beautiful Cedar River Trail which is the perfect setting for parkrun. Staying active is important and Renton parkrun provides the perfect community opportunity to get folks outside and moving every weekend in a fun and relaxed setting. I thoroughly enjoyed my first parkrun in Renton and you will definitely see me out there again and again in the future.”
Seattle resident Tiffany Walker says, “parkrun has motivated me to start moving my body, even if it’s just walking. It’s great to have these Saturday morning ‘check-ins’ to see how I’ve progressed in my fitness journey. I also love it because it’s an event I can do with my other health-minded friends who walk, run or jog at their own pace. We all have the same goal of showing up.”
Volunteer Cam Kennedy: “What I love about parkrun most of all is it’s inclusivity. It’s free and welcomes everyone: young, old, quick and slow. Everyone’s efforts are a cause for celebration.”
Australian artist Paul Kelly sang about an indigenous man whose determination and perseverance changed the lives of countless people. “From little things big things grow,” goes the song – a sentiment shared by Co-Event Director, Kortney. “I didn’t anticipate how much effort or time it was going to take but I am so glad that I never gave up. Because of this thing we’ve started, hundreds and likely thousands will experience group exercise for free in a supportive and non-competitive environment. Many will go on to be life-long exercisers and others will experience the amazing mental and emotional wellbeing benefits of community engagement. parkrun may have given me my first grey hairs — for reals! — but it also gave me purpose, community, friends, and memories. I hope you’ll all come join us on November 18 at the Cedar River Trail!”
About parkrun: parkrun offers free, weekly, timed 5K events in beautiful natural settings, organized by teams of local volunteers. Starting with a single low-key meetup for 13 friends in a London park in 2004, parkrun is now the world’s largest running event, happening in over 1000 locations in 18 countries worldwide every Saturday morning. Still relatively new in the US, Renton parkrun is the 15th weekly event in the parkrun USA family, and the first in the Pacific Northwest.
When we look through the photos from 40-odd parkrun events every week, we love seeing so many happy faces. It’s a great reminder that, despite all of our differences, parkrun brings us together. There’s nothing more powerful than the shared joy of moving our bodies outside, whether it’s in the heat and humidity of Florida…
We all know that parkrun events are free, friendly, forever thanks to the volunteers who make every parkrun happen. Less widely known is that the local teams are supported by the parkrun ambassadors, volunteers who support new and existing events and much more besides. This past weekend the parkrun USA ambassadors team held their…