How running helped me reclaim my life

Michelle Anne Neo was never a runner – or even particularly fit. This is her story about how she tried to help her troubled son and ended up changing her own life as well.

On the suggestion of a friend, Michelle joined her local parkrun, a community-based event. Held on weekends all around Australia and around the world, parkrun is a simple concept: turn up every Saturday and run 5km.

The philosophy is clear and non-competitive. It doesn’t matter how fast you go. It doesn’t matter what you’re wearing. What matters is taking part. There are now parkrun events each Saturday and Sunday in countries all around the world. Each event is based in a unique location such a park, beach or promenade. All events are organised by a group of volunteers.

Here is Michelle’s story:

This week is my one year run-aversay. Twelve months of regular running – who knew I had it in me?!

I didn’t really start running for me. I’ve never been a runner before. My inspiration was my son Luke.

Luke has ADHD. He’s a great kid; we are close and personally, I thoroughly enjoy the many gifts Luke and his ADHD bring.

He’s funny and quick-witted and inherently likeable. He can be vexatious, but his mischief is never mean-spirited. Luke’s ADHD is well managed at home, mostly because I see the hilarious side to his behaviour.

At school was a different story. Luke really struggled to manage his boundless energy and was distressed to be constantly in trouble. His teachers struggled to contain him. Luke is also dyslexic so the combination of hyperactivity and frustration at the difficulty presented by his school work meant Luke preferred to achieve well as class clown. He was forever being sent out of the class and otherwise being disciplined for disrupting the class. This wore him down.

He tearfully asked to trial medication to help him manage. Medication did not work for him as he hated the side effects. I felt bad for him – he’s such a good kid and I knew he was trying his hardest.

I was discussing all this with a colleague, Rob, who gave me some good advice that day. He suggested I find a way to help Luke experience a sense of achievement, to receive positive feedback and to burn off some energy. Rob, a keen runner, encouraged me to sign up to parkrun.

So that’s how I found myself, 12 months ago, morbidly obese and feeling ridiculously self-conscious standing with my son at the start line of our first parkrun. I struggled. Unused to such physical activity but determined to see it through, I completed the 5km circuit in 49:05. I couldn’t walk for days after. The stairs were a killer. But we went back the next week. And the next.

Michelle _crop
Before and after: Michelle with her son (left) and her stunning transformation (right)

I cracked the 40-minute mark in week 9. Luke is significantly faster with a current personal best of 21:44. His behaviour at school has improved to the point that now when I get phone calls from school I’m not tempted to quickly hang up – the teachers call me to tell me how impressed they are with Luke’s behaviour and academic achievements. His report card brought tears to my eyes – not unusual except they were happy ones this year! It’s definitely been good for him, which was what I’d hoped when we started.

But never mind him, what has surprised me most was how good it’s been for me! I run through the week as well as regularly attending parkrun. I’m mountain-biking as often as I can. I have lost in excess of 35kgs.

My body has changed – there are muscles where I previously carried excess weight. I feel so much healthier and my capacity to cope with stress and illness has improved. I feel good, really really good. I’m equally proud of myself as I am proud of Luke. And I am grateful for the encouragement from my friend and colleague Rob who got us going to start with and has supported us along the way.

Other members of my family have joined us after seeing how much fun we’re having. My other children and husband have recently signed up for parkrun. The left photo is of us on our first ever parkrun (see photo above). The right photo was taken at my 43rd parkrun.

Have you ever tried running? Share your story here. 

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