Cochrane "marathon man" awarded national medal
Martin Parnell knew a month in advance that he was being awarded the Diamond Jubilee medal, but he had to keep it a secret, which wasn’t an easy task.
“I wanted to tell everyone,” the Cochrane marathon runner said. “I (was told) to keep it quiet because Stephen Harper was going to be there. I was so honoured, I couldn’t believe it. It’s an absolute thrilled.”
Parnell, 56, is one of 60,000 Canadians who have been awarded Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee Medal to mark the 60th anniversary of the Queen’s accession to the throne. The medal was unveiled in February 2011 and honours the charitable works and community involvement of citizens across the country.
Parnell was presented his medal in Calgary, Oct. 9, by Governor General David Johnston, Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Wild Rose MP Blake Richards. Several other Rocky View residents received the award as well, including Parnell’s neighbour, Betty Goodspell.
Parnell has been dubbed as the “marathon man” after he ran 250 marathons in 2010 to raise money for the Right to Play Foundation, which provides sport opportunities to children in developing countries and promotes activity in 5,000 schools across Canada. After completing the 250 marathons, Parnell was inspired to continue his support of Right to Play. He began his Quest for Kids initiative, which is 10 sporting events in five years which he’s hoping raises $1 million.
Quest for Kids was born from a June 2011 trip to Benin, a West African country that Right to Play works with. Parnell was invited to accompany the organization and visit five schools that have implemented a Right to Play class. The experience was unbelievable, Parnell said,
“After the 250 marathons, I wasn’t really sure what to do next,” he said. “Then, we visited with the kids in Benin. A lot of times they get 50 per cent of the kids (coming to school). On a Right to Play day, they get 100 per cent. After that, I thought ‘I can’t stop.’”
To date, Parnell has completed five quests out of 10, including breaking the Guiness World Records for the longest netball and lacrosse games played and running three times around Rarotonga Island, which is part of the Cook Islands in the South Pacific Ocean.
He completed his most recent quest on Oct. 7, breaking the World Record for the longest soccer game played. Parnell and a group of 16 participants played for 42 hours and one minute, besting the previous record of 40 hours. They played on teams of five with three substitutes for each team. While one sub would be waiting to jump into the game, the other two would be napping and there were three, six and 12 hours shift, which took a toll on everyone.
“It was tough,” Parnell said. “We were draggin’ our butts. The fatigue factor set in and there were foot problems, upper leg problems, twisted ankles, but every single person who played finished the game.”
The new record isn’t even a week old, but Parnell already has his next quest ready to go. In partnership with the Kimmett Cup Pond Hockey tournament, which is held every year to honour the memory of Cochrane’s Lindsay Kimmett, Parnell will attempt to break the world record for most players in an exhibition hockey game in eight hours. The event will take place Jan. 19 in Cochrane.
As a Diamond Jubilee Medal winner, Parnell joins a list of high profile Canadian sports figures who were also recognized, including former Calgary Flame Sheldon Kennedy, former Toronto Maple Leaf Wendel Clark and longtime CBC Sports anchor Scott Russell. Parnell said while being in the same category as some of the country’s sport royalty, he loves that the award recognizes the dedication of citizens from all walks of life and not just the professionals.
“I’m not an elite athlete,” he said. “I’m a regular person who loves playing sports and learning sports. (The award) blows me away. I think it helps people realize that everyone can make a difference and it’s encouraging for a lot of people.”