parkrun might not be a race, but every time Ann Guyatt completes the free, weekly, 5km timed run in South Toowoomba, she feels like a winner.
Four years ago Ann, 74, found out she had a very aggressive form of cancer. She credits her recovery and ability to keep bouncing back to parkrun.
“I sincerely believe parkrun saved my life,” Ann said.
Ann was always very active in her younger days, and used to love staying fit by mountain biking and orienteering.
“I also enjoyed some fun running during my younger life but hadn’t run for about 30 years, so parkrun was perfect for me to get motivated again. I was there with bells on at Toowoomba’s first parkrun at Queens Park. It quickly became the highlight of my week and with my 70th birthday approaching, I was content with my PB of 38 minutes,” she said.
It was August 2014 when Ann was troubled by a few loose teeth on her upper left jaw.
“The scan was the scariest thing I had ever seen. A biopsy confirmed a cancer and what a monster it was; a bone cancer (fibro sarcoma) that had eaten away at my eye socket, top jaw, hard and soft palette and most of my sinuses,” she said.
Because of Ann’s age, the size of the cancer and the vital nerves and blood vessels involved, doctors were reluctant to touch it and offered Ann palliative care only, but she pleaded to be given a fighting chance.
“The decision remove the cancer and reconstruct my face was made based on my good health. I accredit this to parkrun. I believe that if I hadn’t been a regular parkrunner wouldn’t have been healthy enough to withstand that 20 hours surgery,” she said.
Ann underwent surgery in September 2014 then spent about a week in a drug induced haze, before returning to reality with a thud.
“The cancerous mass was removed, a piece of bone from my hip was transplanted into my cheek, a large flap of muscle was removed from my stomach and crafted into my soft palette and mouth and I was connected to machines by a gazillion tubes. Six weeks in hospital then six weeks of radiation, then I went home to heal,” she said.
During Ann’s recovery, her number one goal was to get back to parkrun.
Ann then had to overcome another obstacle as the place where the stomach muscle had been removed, ruptured.
“I was still attending parkrun but this big bulge on my side became unbearable, so another five hours surgery had to be endured,” she said.
Ann said parkrun continued to keep her in the very best health, which her doctors always commented on.
“I kept up my determination to attend every parkrun possible until another setback resulted in more surgery.”
The original bone graft failed so more bone was harvested, this time from my skull. After that 10 hour operation I continued with my passion to get back to parkrun – and I did,” she said.
Ann said she didn’t think she’d still be around if it wasn’t for parkrun. Her goal now is to get her black 100 t-shirt, which with continued good health, she hopes to achieve by March. She’s done 79 parkruns.
“parkrun is a social outlet for me. I ride my electric bike there. I didn’t know anyone there when I first started, now I have so many friends. They call me Granny Annie – they’re all like my family,” she said.
Ann said times were not important now, just being able to get out there and have fun.
“I do parkrun in about 46 minutes now but I only need to finish to feel like a winner,” she said.
Urunga parkrun started on 14 October 2017. Since then 680 participants have completed 2,142 parkruns covering a total distance of 10,710 km.
It’s held every Saturday at 7am along the pathway near the Urunga Boardwalk and it continues through the holiday season.
It costs nothing to attend but people need to register before their first run and bring a barcode with them.
More details http://www.parkrun.com.au/urunga/