Early Saturday morning, before you have hit snooze on your alarm something is already afoot at the Knocknacarra Community Centre.
The birds which have been awake for hours startle to the sound of crunching gravel underfoot and take flight to the safety of the overhead canopy. As they watch from the refuge of the surrounding trees, they realise they are no longer the sole occupants of the football pitch.
A band of yellow high vis vests has now descended upon the far end of the pitch. In a joint effort the high vis vests secure a green banner to the front of the goal posts. It reads: ‘Parkrun Meeting Point’.
Meanwhile, a crowd has started to gather. Some jog or stretch to keep warm. While others chat amongst themselves, filling everyone in on what happened since they last convened together on the Knocknacarra football pitch last Saturday.
The excited chatter crescendos until the crackle from the megaphone slices through the noise. “Welcome to the Knocknacarra parkrun,” enthuses Knocknacarra parkrun Ambassador Padraig Fahey.
Whether you are running the Bere Island parkrun off the West coast of Cork, or participating in a Dublin city centre parkrun, you are running as part of a community that spans over 2,000 locations, in 23 countries, across 6 continents.
This element of community is what shines from the Knocknacarra parkrun. Perhaps this is why locals call it the “friendliest parkrun in Ireland”, or maybe they’re just ever so slightly biased! Regardless of this, when you look around at the parkrunners, there is every walk of life there. Each with their own story of why every Saturday morning, rain or shine, they make the weekly pilgrimage to the football pitches behind the Knocknacarra Community Centre.
Devyn and Deirdre
One such duo is Devyn Adams and Deirdre Gibbons. Their parkrun story is one that has survived the trials and tribulations of a global Pandemic, and the distance of both land and sea. Devyn, originally from Pennsylvania, USA had moved over to Galway in January of 2020, to study at the University of Galway.
“I moved to Galway for a semester for my undergrad, right before the Pandemic. At the time I was looking for people to run with, so I reached out to parkrun,” explains Devyn. “The first time I went it was pouring down rain, the craziest weather ever. But everyone was super nice, so I started coming back each week.”
A few weeks into her parkrun experience Devyn met Deirdre. Devyn is visually impaired so she must run with a guide. Deirdre, inspired by Devyn’s ‘can do’ attitude decided she would like the train to become a guide, so she could run with Devyn.
“I noticed Devyn one of the weeks I was down there running, and I thought wow she’s amazing! So, I thought if I could help out in some way and run with her, I’d love to do that. I just felt so inspired by her.”
Unfortunately, this new partnership was cut short in March of 2020, as the onset of lockdown restrictions meant Devyn had to return home to Pennsylvania. “I met Deirdre at the parkrun, and we ran together for the first time. Afterwards, she dropped me back to my apartment, we said goodbye and promised to run together at parkrun next week. It wasn’t until two years later that I saw her again.”
Two years of lockdown passed, and Devyn was still determined to make it back to Galway. She applied for a Masters in ‘International and Comparative Disability Law and Policy’ at the University of Galway and started in September.
Devyn explains: “I reached back out to parkrun to look for people to train with for the Dublin Marathon and Deirdre reached out to me saying she would love too. She’s super willing to run with me the whole time and super friendly.”
Onto the next goal
The next goal was now set for the pair. The Dublin Marathon. Unfortunately, due to Deirdre sustaining an injury she will be running individually, with Devyn’s best friend from America flying over to be her guide for the day. However, the partnership does not end here. Since Devyn’s arrival back to Galway, the pair have become training partners for the marathon, running together every Saturday at parkrun and also during the week. In their short time together, the two women have become a team, running together as a unit rather than two individuals.
“It’s teamwork. You need to be very clear in your communication, especially at parkrun in Knocknacarra where the terrain can vary from running through the woods where the leaves might be slippery. To going uphill and lots of corners and twists in the course. It’s just so important to be clear with Devyn to tell her what’s up ahead,” says Deirdre. “Trust is a huge thing. I can nearly just give Devyn a nudge and she’ll know.”
With the Dublin Marathon due to take place on Sunday, Devyn says she’s excited for the training to pay off. “Every time we have run together, we have just been talking about the marathon, so I know Deirdre’s super excited too. It will be so fun for the both of us to be there and to cheer each other on.”
A new friendship
Although Deirdre and Devyn are not running together on Sunday, the support the women receive from each other will still be present. This is because parkrun has created more than just a running partnership. It has transcended beyond training buddies, to a genuine friendship.
“My children love her. I’ll collect her before parkrun, and they love listening and chatting to her in the car. She is such a beautiful, amazing person. I’m in awe of her and we have such an amazing friendship.” Deirdre adds: “We have learnt so much from her. She’s inspirational. It’s great for the kids to meet someone like Deyvn as there is no limit to what she can achieve. Nothing will stop her.”