Ovens & Murray Advertiser - North East Regional Extra
Laura passes baton after six year run
WHEN Laura Tonkin started planning in late 2014 for the introduction of parkrun to Wangaratta, she was following her heart both professionally and personally.
Parkruns are free, weekly community events held across the world, offering an inclusive experience for people to walk, jog, run, volunteer or spectate.
“I’d heard about parkrun and investigated what it was, and thought it would be good for Wangaratta,” she said.
“I’d just started running, and as I work as a health promotion officer, I thought it would be brilliant for our community.
“There is no pressure, and you do it at your own pace in your own way; there is no requirement to finish at a certain time, and you can run, walk or even skip it if you like.
“The social involvement is an important element - it’s a chance to get out and have a walk or run with your family and friends.”
While Laura hoped others would also see its merits, she could scarcely have imagined the way the event would be embraced, the ‘family’ it would create, or that she would mark six years in the event director’s role.
“Six years has gone so fast; I thought initially that I’d be event director for about 12 months and then hand it on,” she said.
“Now, six years later, it is time for me to hand the role over to someone else.”
Graeme Blanch stepped up as co-event director in January, and worked with Laura to learn the role before officially taking over on the event’s sixth birthday on June 20.
He said Laura was “generous with her time, extremely efficient and has given a lot to the community by steering parkrun for six years.”
“Wangaratta Parkrun was established with her energy and voluntary commitment,” he said.
While a COVID-19 lockdown and flooding at Apex Park, where the 5km Saturday morning event begins and ends, has hit pause on parkrun in recent weeks, Laura said there remained a passion among locals to be involved.
“Our last two birthdays have been marked in lockdown, but each time we’ve come out of lockdown, our numbers have still been good,” she said.
She plans to continue her own involvement as one of six run directors, while ensuring she can also follow the footy endeavours of sons Kyle (11) and Jack (9).
Laura said it had been rewarding to watch the evolution of the event over its six years so far.
“You see the new people come along for the first time and they’re quite nervous, then they come back again, and many become regulars, and you see how excited the kids are; you become part of their journey,” she said.
“People have developed some great friendships through parkrun.
“Every year, our numbers have increased.
“They drop in winter, to around 60, but come September when winter sports have finished, they start to increase to 80 or 100 each week before our biggest month in February.
“I enjoy the connections you make, and meeting people you may not have crossed paths with before.
“It’s a nice little community, and we always try to make everyone feel welcome.
“The best thing is when people come up at the end of parkrun and say things like: ‘Thank you - these runs make a difference to me or my family’.
“You don’t often get to see or hear when you have an impact on someone’s life, so it’s nice.”
From a health promotion standpoint, Laura encouraged anyone who had been considering trying parkrun to keep an eye on the Facebook page, and come along when events resume.
“Anything you can do to improve your health and fitness physically and mentally, especially at the moment, is a great idea,” she said.