Founder of parkrun in Potchefstroom after 40 years

Paul Sinton-Hewitt and his wife and best friend, Joanne at the Potchefstroom parkrun. Photo: Marianke Saayman
Paul Sinton-Hewitt and his wife and best friend, Joanne at the Potchefstroom parkrun. Photo: Marianke Saayman

The founder of parkrun Global, Paul Sinton-Hewitt, visited Potchefstroom last weekend (11-12 November). As an Old Boy from Potchefstroom High School for Boys, he attended the 40th matric reunion at the school on Saturday, 11 November. Since he was in Potchefstroom, a special parkrun was arranged for him on Sunday, the 12th.

Sinton-Hewitt, who now resides in England, visited his old high school for the first time in 40 years, and then met up with some old and new friends and ran the one of the most popular free 5 km timed runs in the world at the Trimpark in Potchefstroom.

‘I wasn’t sure how I would be received after such a long absence and I also didn’t know if I would recognise anyone,’ he said. On returning to Potchefstroom, so many things were familiar and yet so many things had changed,’ he said.

‘However, I knew the route into town and up to the school as if I had never left. Our school felt very familiar, too, except that it felt a lot smaller than I remember,’ he said.

The group of Potchefstroomers that joined Paul Sinton-Hewitt at the parkrun in Potchefstroom. Photo: Marianke Saayman

The group of Potchefstroomers that joined Paul Sinton-Hewitt at the parkrun in Potchefstroom. Photo: Marianke Saayman

Sinton-Hewitt lived in Potchefstroom from 1973 to 1977 and was a boarder at Boys High. ‘I remember that the school has a great tradition that includes discipline and striving to be the best you can be. Looking back, I was a very unhappy person while at school. This wasn’t because of PHSB but more likely due to circumstances at home and because I was far too young and immature to thrive in such an environment. Nevertheless, the school, the teachers and many of the boys gathered around me to help me survive.’

His best memories of his time as a student in Potchefstroom were the ones when he was naughty. ‘I remember bunking out late at night to buy fish and chips from a local shop, only to be caught by two teachers who happened to be in the shop at the same time. I remember getting up before everyone else to go for a run and returning with bottles of orange juice and bunches of grapes. I apologise to the people of Potchefstroom for my naughtiness,’ he said.

Sinton-Hewitt’s running didn’t just stop with fetching juice and grapes, however, it went further and expanded to a global level. He has always been a runner and this led him to find his best friends. But running didn’t always deliver good memories. ‘When I turned 43, a number of bad things happened including a severe running injury. I found myself in a spiral of depression. Usually, when this happens, I am able to deal with it and recover by running and talking with my friends, but I couldn’t run!’

He then decided to give something back to his community by offering a free, weekly, timed run to anyone who would like to attend. ‘The only condition was that they stay afterwards and go for coffee with me. This happened and I recovered from my depression,’ he said.

Paul Sinton-Hewitt running the parkrun in Potchefstroom. Photo: Marianke Saayman

Paul Sinton-Hewitt running the parkrun in Potchefstroom. Photo: Marianke Saayman

The first ever parkrun event was in Bushy Park, Teddington (UK) on 2 October 2004, when 13 runners came together. He never dreamt that this one event would escalate into a global parkrun. Last week, the number of parkrun events worldwide, stood at 1 248, and it grows with about 6-8 new events each week.

‘Our mission is “To help make the World a healthier and happier planet”. If we truly believe this, then the world is our oyster. We can continue to help people improve their lives and the communities they belong to in so many ways. I am so grateful to everyone who participates in the Potchefstroom parkrun. While I was there, I ran a Freedom parkrun (one that takes place on the registered course but on a day other than Saturday morning) and it was clear to me from the people I met that this event is part of what is good about Potchefstroom.

‘Lives are being changed and the community is stronger for the event. I am so grateful to the volunteers who make it happen every week and I’m especially proud that we have this event in the town where I went to school,’ he said.

  AUTHOR
Marianke Saayman
Journalist

Latest News

COMMENTS

Carletonville HeraldParys GazetteSedibeng SterVaal Weekblad
Top