When Gail Keevy and her husband, Mike, first joined parkrun, they were looking to start doing regular exercise and gain more Vitality points for their yearly goal.
Almost a decade later, they never expected to have set up two parkruns in South Africa with the help of the friends they made along their parkrun journey.
My husband, Mike and I made a decision in May 2014 to start doing parkrun. It was not because we were interested in running or even walking; it was to achieve more Vitality points to meet our yearly goal, as well as getting out into the open.
I did water aerobics weekly, so the decision was made that we would go to the Ebotse parkrun in Benoni every other Saturday. We had never run before and had absolutely no idea what to expect as parkrun in South Africa was still in its early days.
After a few months, my husband suggested that we go every week. Eventually, our walking turned into slow jogging and then slow running. Our health started improving too – my husband was even told at his medical check up to keep up whatever he’d been doing as all his stats had improved!
Initially, we came back each week for our Vitality points but later found that we went because we enjoyed the exercise and the interaction with people.
We then moved to the closer Boksburg parkrun and felt the need to contribute, so we started volunteering when possible. There’s such great camaraderie and we got to know both parkrunners and volunteers better. It also gives you such a better insight into how parkrun works.
In October 2015, we made the decision to retire to Scottburgh, KZN. But we were faced with a problem, there was no parkrun nearby. So, we decided together that we would have to start a parkrun ourselves.
We contacted Bruce Fordyce, and he gave us the go ahead. We were moving in August 2016, so had time to find a venue. We finally settled on Umdoni parkrun, in the beautiful forest in the Umdoni Trust in Pennington.
Every time we came to look at the progress of our home being built, we spent an equal amount of time sorting out the course, getting direction signs printed, and putting them up.
The crunch came when we moved in September and started Umdoni parkrun four weeks later in an area we didn’t know well, with people we’d never met! Suddenly being the event director was also daunting but the wonderful parkrun community rallied around us and helped us on our first day with all the volunteer positions.
We built up a volunteer base of 40 people and had fun braais (which means a cookout for non-South Africans!) where we trained on all positions. We were in our prime when COVID-19 hit us. In those two years, we were told we could no longer use the Umdoni Trust facility once parkrun started up again.
So we found ourselves in the position of needing to start another parkrun at another venue. Our volunteers came to the party and we developed a beautiful course at East Coast Brewing Company in Ilfracombe, KZN.
This time around we already had a base of volunteers who had stayed with us. We have now managed to build it up to over 70 volunteers!
We even helped to set up a parkrun in West Virginia, U.S. as our daughter lived there at the time. I contacted parkrun in the U.S. to lend help and it just so happened that there was someone setting up a parkrun in Charleston. We met him once we were over there and went to Charleston’s first parkrun, which was a privilege.
I have recently achieved my 250th milestone and my husband is on his way to his 300th parkrun. Never in our wildest imagination did we think this was where we would be today. I had never initially thought to set up one venue, never mind two!
Volunteering means that you’ve helped someone achieve their goal, so we want to encourage more local people to volunteer and keep improving our course with signs.
My husband is now enjoying running at the age of 75 and I walk, jog, and run at the age of 68. We have made so many friends through our journey and thank them all for the impact they have made in our lives.
Everyone is capable of doing a parkrun. Getting to your 250th parkrun is just a matter of doing one parkrun at a time, but it’s truly all about making new friends, getting outside and exploring and being healthier in the process!
This week we’re looking back on 10 years of the parkrun Ambassador Programme. Ambassador roles enable more people to get involved with parkrun, share their knowledge, and support their communities health and happiness. Find out how it all started, what the Ambassadors do and what we have achieved together. Firstly, what…
Rahema Mamodo started parkrunning after completing a 5k starter programme. She’s enjoyed the support and inclusivity of the parkrun community, which has led her to join a running club and enter long distance races. I was recommended to try parkrun by the leader of my 5k group. I registered and went along to my local event in…