‘My super hero is me!’ shouts one of the Mini Mermaids as she powers up the final hill at Roundhay parkrun. Once named the ‘Hill of Doom’, the daunting ‘steep incline’ running through Roundhay park has now been rebranded ‘Super Hero Hill’ from a group of Mini Mermaids creating a different superhero each time they run, walk, hop or skip up it (which for Roundhay parkrun is three times!).
parkrun is the finale to our co-curricular programmes where girls from the age of 7 are taught the incredible value and power of being physically active however they can, whilst building confidence in their bodies, becoming empowered and understanding their value in the world.
‘Are they shouting and cheering me?’ ‘Why is everyone smiling?’ are the type of questions that are often asked as the Mini Mermaids make their way around the various parkrun courses throughout West Yorkshire. They are overwhelmed by the kindness, support and equality that is shown to them by total strangers.
Mini Mermaids was born out of a need to make sure that primary school girls understand the importance of physical activity and the connection to their mental health. Also, the power of their views and opinions, which feeds into positive mental health and helps to process and deal with everyday actions and events. It is vital that young girls not only understand that their voices need to be heard, and they deserve to feel valued, but also the importance of being physically active for every aspect of their lives.
It’s not about creating thousands of Olympians or a culture of competition, it’s teaching girls that being active in any form can change your mind set and your day. It can turn a negative day into a positive day, an argument into a resolution, a sense of self-loathing into a celebration of your body.
The facts are that there is a significant gap between men and women taking part in any form of physical activity, which plays into the imbalance of equality between the sexes. What organisations like parkrun are doing by collaborating with This Girl Can is addressing the imbalance and finding ways to break down as many barriers as possible to ensure that participation is equal.
What is interesting and exciting about parkrun is that participation is not restricted to ‘running’ at the events. Running, walking, jogging and volunteering is valued in equal measure which provides a supportive environment for women to come and be involved in.
parkrun celebrates achievements by women, as it does for everyone who attends, irrespective of if you are at the front of the running pack, back of the pack or in the middle. Whether you arrive ready to smash your PB, walk around and have a chat with your mates or just stand quietly volunteering as a marshal as you try and figure out something tricky going on in your life.
This is why parkrun is a fantastic final for the Mini Mermaids. Girls and their families (mothers, fathers, grandparents, siblings and even dogs!) are introduced to an inclusive and encouraging setting. Young or old, lycra clad or an old tracksuit, different cultures and backgrounds, running, walking (or sometimes in a Mini Mermaid case, pretending to be dragons) or to volunteer, you will always be made welcome, supported and cheered. You will always receive a smile and a kind word from everyone and you will always leave feeling that you have been somewhere where human kindness and #EachForEqual is at its best.
Hannah Corne is CEO for Mini Mermaid and Young Tritons UK and is a Non-Executive Director for parkrun UK. Her passion lies in creating strong, brave and courageous girls who understand their value and worth and how physical activity plays a critical part in their everyday lives.