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when Kelowna hosted this country’s first Park Run. Since then

Time:2019-12-30 04:48Shoes websites Click:

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Every Saturday, in parks all over the world, they gather. With smiling faces and laced sneakers, they head for the starting line. Counting down, 6.4 million people prepare to fill their lungs with fresh air and their spirits with renewal as they pound the pavement for five kilometres.

It’s the world’s largest running club, and we’re all invited to join, for free.

Founded in the United Kingdom, the first Park Run burst from the gates in London’s Bushy Park in 2004. Now held in 20 countries across multiple continents, including Australia, Europe, Asia, Africa and North America, Park Run is a global phenomenon.

Canada laced up in 2016, when Kelowna hosted this country’s first Park Run. Since then, 37 cities have signed up. Numbers are expected to double by next year, and we have a local athlete to thank for it.

Bill Justus — a.k.a. Iron Will — is well-known in running circles. A military man of 22 years, he has 18 Ironman competitions under his belt. He’s determined, organized and efficient. And he doesn’t take no for an answer.

“The U.K. didn’t want to open up another country for Park Run. They had 12 already,” he says. “We actually agreed to fund our own model here in Canada.”

The work came naturally to Justus, an entrepreneur who owns and operates EK Grill in Glenmore, but that doesn’t mean it was easy. It took 18 months, sourcing federal grants, lobbying local MPs and bringing businesses on board. On Aug. 18, 2016, toes hit the starting line at the Parkinson Recreation Centre, and they’ve been lining up ever since. As of January 2020, Park Run Canada will be fully funded, and any community can apply.

Getting involved is as easy as ready, set, go!

Register at parkrun.ca; print off your individualized bar code; show up on Saturday. It doesn’t matter what you wear, how old you are, or even your fitness level. The path is paved and everyone is welcome — people in wheelchairs, babies in strollers, even furry friends on leashes.

“Our youngest participant is four and our oldest is 94,” Justus says, “and together they have crossed the finish line hand in hand.”

On a typical Saturday, about 70 people show up in Kelowna, but as many as 150 have come together to run. Penticton now hosts an event as well. Once you’re registered, you can join any Park Run, anywhere in the world.

People from Russia, South Africa, the Czech Republic and Europe have taken part in the Okanagan. Ambitious runners travel the world, hitting different host cities, their goal to get all the letters of the alphabet.

“I’ve had people say they’d never be able to run 5K,” Justus says. “They start out walking and months later they’re running.”

Not that speed matters to him.

“I could give a hoot when you come in. Being here is a huge accomplishment, and I’ll be waiting at the finish line.”

Indeed, without fail, Justus volunteers every weekend, welcoming newbie runners and cheering on seasoned ones. The only time he’s away is when he’s opening a Park Run elsewhere in Canada.

Paid to represent the military in his racing days, Justus credits running with more than personal fitness, saying it opened his eyes to the world.

“I’ve run on every continent. The Great Wall of China and around the Pyramids. Running has allowed me to see things I never would’ve seen . . . when the opportunity came to give back, it was time.”

You could say the sport shaped his life, something Kelowna resident Beryl Tremblay understands.

It is a frigid -11 C when I show up for my first Park Run a few weeks ago. Scanning the crowd, I spot Tremblay right away. True, she is the only one with a big, black helium balloon, the numeral 100 written in white ink, tied to her hydration belt. But it’s more than that. A stunning woman with bright blue eyes and a warm smile, she’s fit, fabulous and, at 71 years old, about to complete her centennial Park Run.

Tremblay was married to the love of her life, when he was tragically killed in a car accident in 1981. The two met as young children, prophesying they’d one day marry. When she lost her best friend, Tremblay lost her North Star. Then she found fitness.

“I ended up at the gym and it saved me. I had no idea how therapeutic exercise is. It’s the best antidepressant invented.”

Buoyed by her workouts, Tremblay took up running when she turned 60.

“I thought, if I don’t start now, I never will.”

Still, when she learned about Park Run, she was reluctant to join.

“When you’re a slow runner, you’re not sure you should be there, but the very first day, everyone was so encouraging and so welcoming, I never looked back.”

Even on the days she signs up to volunteer, Tremblay arrives early, heading out on the course before the other runners arrive, eager to get her mileage in. Her black balloon bobbing behind her as we jog down the rail trail path, she tells me her goal is to run until she turns a hundred.

“I’ll never be first,” she says, grinning, “but I’ll always have the best time.”

If fun and fitness are on your 2020 resolution list, visit parkrun.ca or look for the Okanagan Parkrun Facebook page.

Shannon Linden writes articles, kids’ books and grocery lists. Visit her at shannonlinden.ca.

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