An Inspiring Story
Recently Canada celebrated its 150th birthday. Canada is a young nation full of beauty, brains and acceptance, and so in order to ring in 150 years StandOUT asked Canadians from east to west, north to south, all across our great nation, to submit stories on what makes them uniquely Canadian.
We received some incredible stories from across the country detailing the heart and soul of what it means to be from the “True, North, Strong and Free”, and while we wish we could highlight all of the incredible stories we’ve read over the past couple of months, we could only choose one winner; Martin Parnell.
In keeping with the theme of all things Canadian, along with hockey, maple syrup and poutine, one would surely bring to mind, multiculturalism, kindness and acceptance (to name a few). Our winner encompasses the true values of being a StandOUT Canadian in all aspects of his life.
Parnell’s story starts back in 2002, at the age of 47. He received a call from his brother challenging him to participate together in a marathon. While he had no prior experience running, Parnell took up the challenge, along with his other brother who flew from England to also complete the race. What started as a good old fashioned sibling rivalry manifested into something much bigger and life altering for Parnell. Not only did he get into shape, he also found his true passion, running. Along with this passion came a calling to help others in need (a true Canadian value, wouldn’t you say!).
Running has taken Parnell around the world, including Boston – home of the world renowned Boston Marathon. In 2005 he signed up for a cycling tour, from Cairo to South Africa. It was during this trip that he began to formulate a plan that incorporated his passion for running and his need to give back to those in vulnerable circumstances.
“In 2005 I cycled in Africa, from Cairo to Cape Town. Along the way I played sports with the children and realised the power of sport to change lives”, remembers Parnell.
It doesn’t matter age, gender, culture or religion, the power of sport brings people together. His experience in South Africa stayed with him long after he left the country, however he wasn’t sure what to do with the knowledge he’d gained. That was until a friend introduced him to the organization Right to Play in February 2009. Right to Play uses sport and play based programs to teach kids life skills such as leadership, team building and conflict resolution. It was during the introduction to this organization that he realized he now knew how he could help others.
From there Parnell, created a couple of initiatives, first being Marathon 250. He vowed to run 250 marathons in a year, and second, an initiative called Quest for Kids, which used the same principles as Right to Play. In 2010 to 2014 Martin undertook his Quests for Kids initiative, to complete 10 Quests in 5 years, to raise $1 million for Right to Play, and to help 20,000 individual people. During his journey Parnell realised that people rally around and support an idea if it sparks something inside of them – at the end of 2014 he had raised $1.3 million and helped over 27,000 people.
When asked what stands out most about himself he says, “probably my enthusiasm. I love to help people achieve their potential. In 2010 when I ran 250 marathons my favourite days were Thursdays when I’d run a marathon at one of the local schools. I’d go in for morning assembly and talk to the kids about Right to Play. Then I’d go outside and run 100 times around a school building or the soccer field. Round and around.
“The kids would come out and join me for the first couple of loops. Then they’d wave goodbye and head to classes. I’d keep going and they’d wave to me from inside. At lunch time they would come out for two more loops. As we ran they’d feed me lunch. They’d give me apples, carrots and snickers bars. I was like a running Guinea pig, sort of a pet for a day.
Then they’d go in for afternoon classes. I’d keep going and at end of the day, after six hours of running, the kids would join me for the last two loops and we’d finish the marathon together and have high fives.
“But what really blew me away, was when they came up to me and gave me their pocket money for the ‘other’ kids. They understood how lucky they were with their school, homes and toys and then I shared with them that some children don’t get the chance to play. These children might have to spend six hours a day fetching water from a tap in a village or live in refugee camps where it’s too dangerous to go off and play. I could have had the worst week of running marathons but my spirits soared every Thursday after running at a school. In total I ran at 60 schools with over 12,000 students from kindergarten to Grade 12.”
With all of the success Parnell has gained from his experiences, he’s learned the key in life is that people can absolutely achieve more than they think they can, they just need to step outside of their comfort zones.
As a professional speaker and author, Parnell wants to share his message that individuals can develop a “finish the race attitude”, set goals, and overcome obstacles to achieve their full potential. This, in turn, allows individuals to take control of their lives and to make a difference in the lives of others.
Parnell wants people to be able to relate to his journey. Taking on challenges late in life, dealing with personal tragedy, overcoming a life threatening stroke, and making a difference.
“In life what counts is not whether you are successful, it’s whether you are significant”, says Parnell.
He successfully ran 250 marathons in 1 year and raised $320,000 for the humanitarian organization Right to Play. He was then asked to talk about his experience and the concept of ordinary people doing extraordinary things. He now travels the world giving keynotes on Ordinary to Extraordinary – One Step at a Time and recently gave a TED talk on Life is a Relay. Additionally, he has given workshops on Unlocking Your Potential.
“I have two books published by Rocky Mountain Books, Marathon Quest and Running to the Edge. My final book of the Marathon Trilogy, The Secret Marathon, about running a marathon in Afghanistan, will be published in September 2018”.
Having asked what one of Parnell’s favourite achievements was, he responded with a story about working with the Morley First Nations.
I have spoken at a number of conferences and conventions over the years but I think one of the highlights has been facilitating my workshop for groups of Indigenous men and women living in Morley, Alberta. The objective is to have these individuals enter the workforce with the Banff Accommodation Association. Working with them to establish their goals, identify obstacles to overcome, and developing a plan for the future has been extremely fulfilling”.
When not speaking at conferences, giving work shops or high fiving children at Alberta’s local schools, Parnell spends his time with his wife, Sue and their three grandchildren, aiming to be “the coolest granddad ever”!
Thank you Martin Parnell, not only are you one cool granddad, you’re one StandOUT Canadian, who truly encompasses the positive Canadian values that our nation’s citizens are so very proud of! — Toran Lanthier