Taking part in a regular park run has helped an autistic Corby schoolboy develop his social skills.
Will Gardiner, 10, first got involved with Corby’s parkrun, which takes place at West Glebe Recreation Ground, Cottingham Road, every Saturday at 9am, because his mum Kate is one of the volunteer organisers.
She wanted the family to try something new that they could all enjoy together.
She said: “We wanted all of the family to embrace a healthier lifestyle based around something other than technology.
“Though saying that, we never thought he’d take to it as well as he has!”
Will has high functioning autism and attends mainstream school.
In some ways, the high functioning nature has made some things really hard for him.
Kate said: “On the face of it, he looks ‘normal’, “but he’s awkward in social situations and this had led to him feeling alienated in activities he’s taken part in before.”
Will went along to Corby parkrun with his family a few times and enjoyed volunteering and cheering on the runners and it wasn’t long before he decided that he wanted to take park in the 5km run.
“He saw the runners and said ‘I can do that’. So the next week he did.
“He didn’t run it all but he realised he loved it and the support he got from the parkrun community was amazing.
“Will was bitten by the running bug and from parkrun he then signed up to our local athletics club as well.”
With the support of the whole of the run, Will slowly became comfortable being there and now regularly takes part either volunteering or running.
Kate has seen a transformation in her son that she wasn’t expecting,
“He’s becoming a good sportsman and enjoys cheering others on as much as taking part.
“He was awarded young park runner of the year last year, in part for his volunteering duties.
“One issue with having autism is the inability to see others’ points of view easily.
“So even cheering someone on doesn’t come naturally to Will, it wouldn’t even cross his mind that it might be a nice thing to do.
“Volunteering at parkrun has given us the opportunity to help Will to develop these skills.
“I think it’s also taught him some resilience – standing in a cold park isn’t every 10-year-old’s idea of fun, especially when there is no obvious reward for it.
“But Will has really embraced the volunteer role and loves to cheer people on.
“His love of stats is also key here – plenty of runners stats for him to pour over once we are home.
“He’s also learning conversation skills and has a sense of responsibility.”
Will has also learned the vital role that volunteers play in making parkrun happen each week and building the community,
He said: “I didn’t want to help out at first but now I know that without volunteers there would be no parkrun. And that would make me sad.”
Sports legacy charity Join In’s research show that volunteering in sport helps people feel closer to their communities and Will agrees: “It’s a friendly community and I love being part of it.
“I like to have a chat with the other runners and volunteers.
“I like to know that I’m cheering people on because that helps you when you’re running.”
Parkrun has brought the family together too, as Kate explains, “parkrun has given us time together each week, to share a joint interest.
“With Will’s previous special interests it’s been very hard to be so involved as he didn’t necessarily want me to be.
“But he’s let me in with this and we are able to share running tips and we look at the stats each week together.
“It’s great to see him develop in to a sociable child who is able to share a conversation.”