My two friends are avid hikers.
I too used to be mad about hiking but sadly due to my accident, those days are over. B, being aware of my longing, said to me: “Let’s go to the Botanical Gardens. You can have a great walk there and Perdita will love it.”
Walking around a garden wasn’t my idea of much of a walk, certainly not a ‘hike’, but not wanting to be petulant, I agreed. What a magical surprise! I discovered George Botanical Gardens to be beautiful and the Mushroom Meander that B and I embarked upon was perfect for me. It was sufficiently challenging for this Gaynor-gait of mine to cause me enormous enjoyment.
“B, that was great. Thanks so much!”
“If you enjoyed it, why don’t we do the Park Run in the Botanical Gardens on Saturday morning?”
“But I am not a runner and I…”
“No, you twit! It’s called the Park Run but you can run, walk, hop, skip and jump your way around the Run! You’ll love it.”

Bright and and early on Saturday morning, I found myself in the Botanical Gardens. There weren’t too many people to begin with, but as the clock moved towards 8 o’clock, I looked around in amazement. People were streaming into the park. There were shouts of greeting and laughter as people recognised and welcomed each other. The park was filling with people.

When I think of runners, my mind instantly conjures up this image of people brimming with vitality and health. They are geared out in their snazzy running outfits, prancing from one leg to the other as they limber up for their marathonic run. Thank the Lord, this was not like that at all. There were folk of every age and colour dressed like me – in clothes that were easy to move in. Yes, there were runners dressed to run but these were, well, they were approachable runners!!! Six year olds scurried amongst the legs of eighty year olds, or in my case, fifty-five year olds! There seemed to be this tremendous sense of camaraderie hovering in the air. At exactly 8 o’clock, this man stood in front of the gatherering.
“Good morning, everyone!” he said into a microphone, “It is such a beautiful morning for the Park Run. Is everybody ready? Right,” he gave a big smile, “Five, four, three, two, one and….GO! Enjoy it,” he called after us as this rambling, running, rowdy, rumbuctuous crowd surged forward.
We were off!

There were people with their dogs in tow. No, I’ve put that incorrectly. There were dogs with their people in tow! The dogs surged ahead with their owners hanging onto the leads for dear life! Perdita also surged but she is old now and her surges reduced me to a fast walk and at times the odd trot. We had ‘surged’ a considerable distance when I noticed this road going off to the right.
“B, didn’t you mention that there was a short cut? Is this it?”
“Yes, this cuts out the middle of the journey. We have done the beginning and now this takes us on to the end.”
“Remember I told you how Perdita was starting to limp on the walk over to Mums’ house in the mornings. I think that we should take this short cut for Perdita’s sake.”
“She hasn’t limped once on this Park Run.”
“She hasn’t,” I admitted, “but…I want to go this way. The road looks curvy and intriguing. Also,” I added, “it’s shorter!”

We headed into a thick, green forested area. The track had narrowed to a small, disturbingly provocative pathway. I looked up at the green canopy of trees overhead. In the distance, two birds seemed to be challenging each other in the beauty and loneness of their calls. I stood still and breathed in the sheer beauty surrounding me. Green glory seemed to embellish this little picturesque world I had stepped into. Perdita and I stood still in my little world and I breathed deep.
“Watch it, Gaynor, get to the right!”
B’s voice broke my reverie. I turned to see this gorgeous, bare chested, sweaty runner just about on top of me. Glory be, where had he sprung from?
“Sorry, ladies,” he called as he sped past with incredible swiftness. He was followed shortly by another and all of a sudden my private enclave was no more. The runners had caught up and we were hot in their path!
A surge was called for!
Perdita and I set off at a Gaynor-Perdita gallop.
“Get to the right, Gaye, the right,” B’s voice urged. I went to the right as four runners passed me. I hurried along the winding path.
“Gaynor, the right!”
For goodness sakes, I couldn’t go more right. There was a tree and a small ravine in my path. Well, not a ravine exactly but I couldn’t go more to the right if I wanted to.
“To the right, Gaynor!”
Perdita, B, the mass of panting runners and I finally made it out of the forest and headed on the last leg of the journey.

Suddenly I was tapped on the shoulder. I turned around to see the smiling face of a young woman who had obviously just finished her run.
“Hi there, I’m Melissa!”
“Hi, Melissa, I’m Gaynor. I’m sorry, have we met before? I have the most appalling memory.”
She laughed. “No, don’t worry, this is our first meeting. I couldn’t help seeing that you walk with a limp. Would you mind very much if I prayed for your leg?”
“I would love it. But it isn’t just the leg that is giving me problems. I am spastic down the whole of my right hand side. So if you could please include more than just the leg?”
“The whole right hand side it is,” she said with a laugh.
As B said to me afterwards: “Only you would end your first Park Run being prayed over by a sweet and loving girl called Melissa.”

I now have a new thing in my life: The Park Run.

I was amazed to discover that the Park Run didn’t just occur in the George Botanical Gardens. The Park Run occurs in over 543 parks throughout the world. Sinton-Hewitt, the man that organised that first get together in Bushy-Park in 2004 says: “It has changed the running landscape for good, drawing in people from way outside traditional athletic groups and providing a good reason to get out of bed on a Saturday morning. Right from the word go we refused to call it a race, it was a run, and we said you can run with your dog and you can push a buggy. I think those things together made it possible for people who traditionally felt excluded from competition to feel included.”

And that is what I felt. Together with my big stick, Perdita, the Gaynor-gait, and B’s shouted instructions, I felt included! So get out of bed early on Saturday mornings and make your way to your city’s park. You’ll get roses in your cheeks and the feeling of inclusion is heart warming!

I can’t guarantee that you’ll get prayed over, but who knows?