Luan has Aspergers Syndrome (a developmental disorder affecting his ability to effectively socialise and communicate), and after I joined parkrun, he came only to watch, as he found the large amount of people too terrifying for him to participate. But the Wellington parkrun volunteer team soon became a familiar family for him and when I did my 40th parkrun, Luan joined me for his first on April 8th 2017.
The first parkrun didn’t go without tears, as all the people around him gave him a scary experience and he was very anxious that he might lose me in the crowd. At the age of 7, 5km was also a long way, but he finally managed to complete the course in a time of 47:52, and a huge applause from the volunteers made the milestone an awesome experience. At first, he was cross that he didn’t finish first, but I explained that winning wasn’t the aim of parkrun. Enjoyment was, as well as being healthy. Actually, the main reason for starting parkrun was to help a bit with social skills.
Now after 50 parkruns Luan cannot wait for Saturdays to go parkrun. He recently got a PB of 36:01! It has become his social life and Wellington parkrun volunteers his running family. When we run at Wellington, Luan usually accompanies someone new to parkrun and gives advice on how to technically do the “hill”. We would like to thank everyone that supported him with so much love, and all the people that let him talk them through the course. Yes, sometimes with his own imaginative stories. We are forever grateful for the time spent with him.
Luan has grown so much over these 50 parkruns. Learning to be encouraging, and most of all the much needed social skills and learning to adjust to crowds.
Footnote from Wellington parkrun Event Director:
I met Luan the first time he completed the course clinging desperately to his mum and crying most of the way. We encouraged him every time he joined us and eventually he relaxed and started to enjoy his run. I am so proud to have seen this young man’s journey of overcoming his fears with a very socially debilitating condition. His mum tells me that from being home schooled and not even wanting to swim or swing at a park, he has joined a mainstream school and the cross country team, plays cricket and completed his first gala this year. What touched me most today was Luan handing out a small packet of snacks to everyone after they had finished and saying “Thank you for running parkrun with me today” this little boy who could not say hello or look anyone in the eye when he began…parkrun has indeed changed his life forever.
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