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by Michelle Carnegie
05 August 2017

He has just completed his 250th parkrun, making him only the 4th person in South Africa to do so, and the first in the Eastern Cape. On top of this Henry Pienaar has volunteered at parkruns a staggering 130 times. It is unbelievable to imagine that merely 5 years ago Henry was obese and a diabetic.

When Henry Pienaar crossed the finish line of his 250th parkrun at the Kidds Beach parkrun in East-London, he was elated, to say the least. This is a man who has come a long way, from being obese, unfit and embarrassed about his body size to one of the most well loved faces at Kidds Beach. And not to mention one of the fittest runners there! He has crossed the finish line 8 times in first position.

Milestone Run
Henry received his well-earned parkrun Milestone green T-Shirt on Saturday, July 29th, only 3 days after his 46th birthday. Friends, family and other parkrun volunteers, who have come to love Henry for his grit, determination and great personality, surrounded him on his special day. Before the run Henry and his family travelled all the way from Port Elizabeth (where they moved to in April) to East London so that he could complete his 250th parkrun at what he calls his ‘home parkrun’, Kidds Beach. He holds Kidds Beach close to his heart, as it was here where he completed most of his parkruns (166 in total).

The start of a life-changing journey
As a young man Henry was a competitive athlete, competing in track events, cross-country as well as road running. But as we all know, life happens and Henry became inactive - for more than a decade. This lead to him becoming obese and he was also diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes.

“That was the trigger that forced me to turn my life around. As a result I attended my first parkrun on September 8th 2012, 5 weeks after the launch of the Nahoon Point parkrun,” says Henry. He pitched up feeling “obese, unfit as can be” and also very self-conscious about his body. “However, after seeing so many others in my condition I felt more at ease and at home. It was not the same feeling you sometimes get when you enter an ordinary running event and most runners belong to clubs and are in some sort of physical shape. At the parkrun I received a friendly welcome.”

Pushing Ahead
Henry finished his first 5km parkrun in just under 40 minutes. “I felt like I was going to die. It was tough! But in spite of this I loved it so much and decided to attend every week, with the intention to improve my times and lose weight at the same time.”

In the five years since Henry has started parkrunning he has only missed 1 parkrun per year on average. “I have defeated diabetes within a year of starting parkrunning and am still maintaining a healthy glucose level without any medication ever since.” And though he has in the process made some adjustments to his diet, Henry accredits his weight loss success, increased fitness levels, and the fact that he defeated diabetes, all to parkrunning. And he is no slow coach either! “My best finishing time is 20:16 and my average time is under 23 minutes currently. I’ve recorded 27 personal best times overall and also visited 13 different parkrun events countrywide. I’m a regular top 10 finisher and have crossed the finish line 8 times in first position,” says Henry.

He earned his 50th milestone (red shirt) on August 17th 2013, a year after he started parkrunning, and his 100th milestone (black shirt) a year later on August 23rd 2014. “Five years later, on July 29th 2017, I earned my 250th milestone green shirt. Bruce Fordyce is seven parkruns ahead of me!”

Giving Back
Between all of this Henry has still found time to volunteer more than 130 times since he has started running. He was also the parkrun Event Director at Kidds Beach parkrun from 2015 until he moved to Port Elizabeth recently.

It seems running has definitely become a family affair in the Pienaar-household as Henry’s wife Cherydene has completed 87 parkruns, and their daughters Fay (19) and Farren (14) close to 20 parkruns each.

The next official milestone that Henry is aiming for is 500 parkruns (blue shirt). “That means another 5 years of running. I will use this time to chase down my friends Bruce, Tracy and Dieter, that’s currently ahead of me,” says Henry.
He lives by the words of the great Nelson Mandela: "It always seems impossible until it's done."

Bob Norris together with Bruce Fordyce brought parkrunning to the Eastern Cape and on 11 August 2012 the first parkrun took place at Nahoon Point, with 81 parkrunners. There are now 14 different events in the Eastern Cape with the 15th parkrun to be launched on 12 August in Jeffreys Bay. There are now close to 50 000 registered parkrunners in the Eastern Cape as they are about to celebrate their 5th year of existence.

PIC CREDIT: Piet Rheeder & Crafford Mentz

Article Keywordsparkrun

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