This story comes from parkrun Australia and was written by Sally Heppleston.
When Russell Thornton was eight years old, he suffered a permanent brain injury after being hit by a car. He had to learn to walk and talk again.
Now almost 58 and living an independent life, he was “a bit of a loner” up until a few years ago. parkrun has given Russell the social connections and regular activity that lead him on the path to a happier and healthier life.
Russell’s brother Phillip, who was there for the Taree parkrun launch in May 2015, thought parkrun might be something his brother could benefit from, so a few weeks after the launch, he invited a very nervous Russell to join him.
Russell walked the course that day in 46.52 and has since done 211 parkruns – all at Taree on the New South Wales mid-north coast. His personal best is now 32.49.
However, improved times only tell part of the story for Russell. Meaningful social connections and opportunities to interact with others in the community have been the biggest gifts for Russell, Phillip said. “He has a small group of people he knows, but it’s a lonely life. He wanted to mix with able-bodied people and parkrun has been that gift in his life. He can do things at parkrun and do them reasonably well within a community that is just so caring and aware of the needs of others,” Phillip said.
While Russell still struggles with speech and coordination – sometimes having a fall at parkrun – he never lets anything stop him, Phillip said. “Running is not something I ever thought he’d be able to do. He falls and trips a bit – he’s not fully coordinated. But he puts it all on the line at parkrun. When he finishes, he’s just exhausted. He really pushes himself to the absolute best of his ability,” Phillip said.
Russell is always one of the first to arrive at Taree parkrun and helps with setting up most weeks. He’s also always there for coffee at the end. “It’s all part of his routine now. He also has some people who really look out for him,” Phillip said.
Seeing his brother grow in confidence was just one of the things Phillip loved watching Russell benefit from at parkrun. “To see that transition in his life as his brother is just wonderful. He’s also now more focused on being healthy. It transcends a whole lifestyle. You get fit so you watch your diet a bit more. He’s stronger in the legs and more agile so he now doesn’t fall as much,” Phillip said.
Phillip said he now couldn’t imagine Russell ever doing things differently on a Saturday morning. “On a Saturday, that is just what he does,” he said.
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