A Belfast family is setting out on the challenge of taking part in each junior parkrun across Northern Ireland in order to highlight the event’s inclusivity.
Derek Goodfellow and his kids, four-year-old Dawson and eight-year-old Katie-Louise started their mission on Sunday, October 22 at the Waterworks junior parkrun, with Derek and Dawson dressed as Batman and Robin to mark the occasion.
Derek’s daughter, Katie-Louise, has cerebral palsy and dystonia, is non-verbal, and a full-time wheelchair user. Just a few weeks ago, she had double hip surgery, but the youngster loves getting out and meeting new people.
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When Dawson took an interest in trying out junior parkrun, Derek got in touch with the event organisers to see if Katie-Louise would be able to join in too, and was told the events were all fully inclusive.
And so their challenge to take part in each parkrun across Northern Ireland was born to celebrate and raise awareness of the event’s inclusivity.
Speaking to Belfast Live, dad Derek said this year he marked 10 years since running his first half-marathon, which then led him to the world of parkrun. After an injury prevented him from running further, he was delighted when his son wanted to get involved in running.
He said: “When Katie-Louise’s baby brother, Dawson, turned four at the beginning of August, I thought we’d see if he liked a bit of junior parkrun, and he loved it. He asked if Katie-Louise could come with us one day, but I thought the wheelchair wasn’t the easiest to push or the most comfortable for her, but we went.
“We went to Victoria Park a few weeks ago for her first one and coming out of that, you could see her enjoyment, especially when she’s signing to you asking you to go faster.
“The smile and noises coming from her, she’s non-verbal, but it’s clear to see she loves being outdoors, being sociable, and surrounded by others. It’s good for her too. She’s six weeks post double hip surgery, so she was kept at home for the first three weeks, and getting her out mixing and being sociable again has given her a new lease of life.”
Derek said they wanted to show how inclusive parkrun can be for everyone, as he thought many families may look at the event and be put off.
He said: “I thought there were areas where people see parkruns and never look any further into it. As a complex needs family, I was thinking that if people don’t know it’s out there, they’re going to be in their wee bubble. It’s great to get out there and meet people from all walks of life, and expand that local community network.
“I know how good it is for mental health and well-being, and if we can get that message out to even one family who isn’t aware of the junior parkrun, to go and give it a go. The message I’m putting out is you don’t have to run it, you can walk it and still do the 2K.
“What I love about it is I wasn’t sure if Katie Louise could do junior parkrun so wanted to check, parkrun HQ replied saying they’re fully accessible and encourage everyone to get involved, it’s open to everyone. That’s what I love about it.”
While taking part in their challenge, which is set to go through until March 2024, both Katie-Louise and Derek will reach the milestones of going the distance of a half-marathon and a marathon.
“Having Katie-Louise being able to achieve something alongside her wee brother is great, after taking part in the same event. Dawson loves having Katie-Louise there.
“We’re now having a bit of a carrot on a stick moment, where we’ll ask Dawson who’s going to win this week and before he can say anything, Katie-Louise has her hand up excited, and pointing at herself. It’s a wee bit of sibling rivalry.”
You can follow the family’s journey and see which junior parkrun they’ll be at next through their Facebook page. They are also fundraising for a more suitable wheelchair for Katie-Louise, with more details available here.
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