At 59, Cochrane ultra-marathoner Martin Parnell ran his 350th marathon at Spray Lake Sawmills Family Sports Centre on Dec. 31, 2014, in an effort to raise $1 million for Right to Play — a global organization that uses the power of sports and games to empower children around the world.
“This is it, the final quest to raise this $1 million,” Parnell said before the race. “I have mixed emotions, but I’m thrilled to be here.”
Parnell, who as of press time was $230,000 short of his fundraising goal, said this race was particularly special to him because he was running with friends, family and supporters who have been cheering him on since the beginning.
In another attempt to raise money for the organization in 2010, Parnell ran 250 races in just one year.
Despite the sheer number of marathons he has under his belt over the last five years, Parnell said they never get easier.
“It’s still 42.2 kilometres,” he said. “It doesn’t get any shorter.”
Parnell said he got the idea to run marathons to raise money in 2005 when he cycled across Africa, often times stopping to play sports with the local children.
“When I came back, a friend of mine introduced me to Right to Play and I thought, ‘Wow, I really want to help these people,” Parnell said. “I had just started running marathons, triathlons and ultra-running and just decided to push myself and do this big fundraiser.”
“It seems to have caught on,” Parnell laughed, gesturing to the crowd of people signing up for his marathon behind him.
Parnell said he was touched by how many people he’s met previously and people who he was meeting for the first time, who have come out to support him and Right to Play.
“It’s just fantastic,” he said.
Patti Grysko, one of the runners supporting Parnell’s last marathon of the year, said many of the runners in attendance were part of Cochrane’s Red Rock Running and Tri Club.
“He’s inspired all of us,” Grysko said. “His accomplishments are amazing and absolutely inspirational. He really believed and still believes in what he’s doing.”
But not everyone who ran alongside Parnell on New Years Eve was a friend or family member.
Joline Olson, teacher from Calgary, said she came to support Parnell after he visited her class in November 2014 to talk to her students about his passion for Right to Play.
“We were having a symposium of people who do hard things so naturally, Martin was on the list,” Olson said. “I’ve known of his work and passions for years and I thought this was a chance for me to go participate in his thing like he participated in mine.”
Olson said her interest in running only started recently after turning 40, and after hearing that Parnell only started running at 47, decided to train and sign up for the half-marathon and an ultra-marathon this May.
“It’s that simple, inspiring act of committing to something and taking 100 small steps in that direction and then, boom, he’s done it,” Olson said.
Kyla Pearson, communications manager at Right To Play Canada, said Parnell is a well-known face at the organization and they couldn’t be prouder of his accomplishments — both as a supporter and spokesperson.
“He most certainly is an amazing human being, and an incredible athlete,” Pearson said. “He brings attention to issues children are facing within his local community, across Canada and around the world.”
Pearson went on to say everyone at Right to Play Canada is proud and grateful for his work and congratulated him on his 350th marathon milestone.
To donate to Parnell’s fundraiser, visit canadaquestforkids.com and click “Donate Now.”