Deaf Leeds Arts University student backs This Girl Can and parkrun initiative encouraging women to run this weekend

A deaf Leeds Arts University student who has a new-found confidence due to her weekly parkrun is backing a This Girl Can initiative which is encouraging more women to join and run this weekend.

By Daniel Sheridan
Friday, 4th March 2022, 3:33 pm

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Leah Swallow, 22, completed her first parkrunwhen she was just 15 years old.

However, she struggled with her confidence when moving from her home in Huddersfield to Leeds for the first time.

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Leah and her mother at Crosby parkrun

Eager to change, Leah joined her local parkrun in Leeds - finding a new confidence and improving her mental health.

Leah now helps to organise the event each Saturday through volunteering and has becoming an avid runner.

For International Women’s Day 2022, This Girl Can and parkrun have once again joined forces to encourage thousands more women and girls around the country to take part in an event on Saturday March 5.

Launched in 2015, This Girl Can is Sport England’s nationwide campaign to build women and girls’ confidence to be active, regardless of shape, size and ability – by celebrating them getting active on their own terms.

Leah Swallow volunteering

In 2021, 2.4 million parkruns were completed by 440,000 women and girls across the globe.

Despite these positive numbers there is work to be done to get as many women as men participating at parkrun, the organisation said.

The female share of those completing the 5k at parkrun has fallen by around three per cent compared to pre-pandemic.

Women are also still less likely than men to actually come along to parkrun events, despite registering in greater numbers.

Last year, women made up 51% of total registrations, but only accounted for 44% of completed parkruns. This Girl Can research shows that women want to be active but face barriers such as a fear of judgement, or practical issues such as childcare obligations.

The partnership aims to break down these barriers and inspire women to get active in a fun, supportive and non-judgemental environment.

Speaking to the YEP, Leah backed the initative.

She said: "When I moved to Leeds the fact it was a safe, fun and free of judgement for women it really spurred me on to get involved there.

"I love the fact that your level of fitness doesn’t matter it’s just about getting active and having fun, that’s really what parkrun and This Girl Can are all about encouraging as many women to do so.

"I would definitely recommend it, it is good for both physical and mental health and it is fun.

"The parkrun this weekend is a great excuse for women especially to get involved.

"It’s all about celebrating women and encouraging as many as possible to get involved in exercise, so I would definitely recommend that one as a great one to start, it will be a really amazing and positive day."

The International Women’s Day parkrun will be supported by a targeted social media campaign to address and break down barriers faced by women and girls when accessing physical activity.

Leah said she was very proud to be part of the community.

"Parkrun and This Girl Can have worked hard to make their events accessible to all regardless of ability including the deaf community", she said.

"Lots of parkruns including my home parkrun have volunteers who offer 'Sign Language Support' and its amazing to be part of such an accessible event."

Chrissie Wellington, parkrun’s Global Head of Health and Wellbeing, said insight reveals stark gender differences in physical activity participation "exacerbated" by the Covid pandemic.

"We are proud that parkrun engages around 120,000 women and girls every single weekend across the world, but we also know that many still face barriers to taking part", she added.

"We are working really hard, with partners like Sport England, to remove many of these barriers, and make parkrun as accessible as possible to as many people as possible, and IWD parkrun 2022 is an important part of these efforts.

"We really look forward to marking this important occasion, and using it as a platform to celebrate female participation at parkrun, and help us impact the lives of many more women and girls in the UK and around the world."

Kate Dale, This Girl Can campaign lead, said: “Getting active for the first time or after a long gap can be daunting.

"That is why we’re excited to encourage women and girls to get involved with parkrun to celebrate International Women’s Day, break the bias and tackle the stubborn gender activity gap.

"This Girl Can breaks down the stereotypes of what women getting active should look like, and champions women and girls getting active in the ways that work for them - without worrying about how good they are or what other people think."

To find out more information, visit the This Girl Can or ParkRun website.

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