Parnell talks about tackling the relay of life


Cochrane resident Martin Parnell – author, athlete, philanthropist and five-time Guinness World Record holder – is now hoping to spread a message about making a difference in the lives of others with his presentation at TEDxYCC in June.

Parnell was selected to give a talk at the eighth annual Calgary event, which he said was all about putting forward new ideas to inform and inspire people throughout the globe. The premise of Parnell’s talk was comparing life to a relay race, drawing on his experiences running around the world to support the humanitarian organization Right To Play.

“When you burst out of the blocks, that’s when you find your passion,” Parnell said. “For me, it was running, and I found it at the age of 47. It took me quite a while to burst out of the blocks, but then I really got going.”

The next step, Parnell said, was finding his stride – which he did by starting his “Quest for Kids” initiative in 2010, where he ran 250 marathons in one year. After he was diagnosed with a clot on the brain in 2015, though, his impressive stride came to an immediate halt.

“Suddenly, everything stopped. It was such a change from having run all those marathons to instantly needing help just to get from my bed to the washroom 20 feet away,” he said. “The recovery was long, but then my wife gave me an article about the very first Afghan woman to run a marathon.”

The article provided Parnell with the motivation he needed to start running again, and he said he set a goal to travel to Afghanistan to support the women and girls who were running there. One year later, he was racing alongside Afghan women in a marathon he completed in just under seven hours – and providing them with the support and encouragement to finish the race with him.

“You have to pass the baton to be successful in a relay – if you drop the baton, you’re out,” Parnell said. “We all want to find our passion, whether it’s running or art or music, or whatever, and there’s a journey with that. But I think at the end, we want to pass that information on and share it so other people can achieve their dreams, too.”

While Parnell admitted it was a lot of work to prepare his 17-minute TED talk, he is grateful to have had the opportunity to present with other excellent speakers June 23, including Hayley Wickenheiser and Peter Oldring.

“You only get one shot – you’re on-stage, and they’re recording you,” he said. “I don’t even know how many takes it took before I could get through it without making a mistake. But it’s that preparation, no matter what we do, that leads to success. And on that day, it just all came together.”

A video of Parnell’s presentation has been uploaded to the TEDx Talks YouTube, and Parnell is hoping that his talk strikes a chord with viewers – the more views his video receives, the better his chances are of being picked up by TED to do an official talk at conferences in the United States.

More than anything, though, he said he hopes viewers will take his message to heart.

“We can all make a difference, and that’s really all I want,” he said. “For people to find their passion and just give it a shot. For people to start passing on their knowledge and start making a difference in people’s lives. We can all do something, and this is one way for me to get that message out.”


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