Running the extra mile: Fostering couple conquer park run challenge with baby in buggy
Jacqueline and her husband John have two big passions in life – running and fostering. So when they decided to brainstorm ways they could raise awareness of fostering, it only seemed right to use their regular Saturday morning parkruns – a community 5k run - as a platform to spread the word far and wide.
The couple have been fostering for seven years, alongside their four birth children, welcoming more than 20 teenagers through their door during that time, and more recently, a baby. Jacqueline is a former teacher and during her years in schools she spent a lot of time working with young people with behavioural problems, including some who were in care. John also teaches secondary school aged children, so when they made the leap into fostering they felt it made the most sense to foster teens. However their fostering journey took a different turn in 2021 when they started caring for a newborn baby, who has been in their care ever since.
As we chat, it’s clear how passionate Jacqueline is about fostering and how much love she has for each of the children she’s fostered. She says, despite having taught for 30 years, fostering is one of the main things she’ll be proud of when she looks back on her life.
Raising awareness through running
Keen to raise more awareness of fostering in their local area, Jacqueline and John decided parkrun was the perfect place to do so. So they bought some running vests and printed ‘Fostering with the GCC (Gloucestershire County Council)’, their fostering service, on the front and ‘ask us how’ on the back. They then set themselves the challenge of completing the 19 parkruns in Gloucestershire, wearing their new running vests and pushing along the baby they care for in the buggy. They also created a poster to track the challenge with, spelling out ‘Fostering with the GCC’ by taking a letter from each of the parkruns in acrostic style.
While it was trickier to persuade the teenagers in their care to join in on the early morning run each week, the baby loved every second, drawing lots of attention as she laughed at the runners doing their warmups and quacked at the ducks she saw along the way.
‘The baby loves it, she gets so excited. Every Saturday morning we get her up and say ‘we’re going to go running’ and she’s delighted. My husband pushes her around and I run. Between him and I we’ve pushed her around 1,000kms since we’ve had her’, Jacqueline said.
‘She sits there and laughs at all the dogs. All the parkruns we took part in were really beautiful. Some were out in the Forest of Dean with ducks and geese, so she sits in the buggy squawking and laughing the whole way round.’
Five months after starting the challenge in March 2023 and almost 100 kilometres later they crossed the finish line of their final parkrun of the challenge - Gloucester City – with a special guest, Leigh - one of the teenagers they foster. There were some bumps along the way – the buggy broke which put the challenge on pause briefly – however a community repair café stepped in and saved the day.
The challenge made a big impact – many people have stopped Jacqueline and John at the parkrun events to ask about fostering, and Jacqueline has even appeared on the local BBC radio to talk about their efforts. Jacqueline said she hopes to have broken stereotypes around foster care and show people that they don’t have to stop doing the things they love to become foster carers.
Thinking of fostering? 'Just go for it'
‘Fostering doesn’t have to stop you from doing your ordinary things in life. I love the idea of parkrun – you don’t have to be an elite runner. If you want to do it pushing a buggy around there’s lots of people who push buggies around. You can run in the gym but it’s not the same – I really like that bit of competitiveness’, Jacqueline said.
As well as the awareness raised, one of the biggest moments of joy that came from the challenge for Jacqueline and John is how much the baby enjoyed it. The little girl is up for a adoption and they are filling up a memory box for her, which includes photos of her in the running buggy.
‘It’s going to be so sad doing parkrun when she’s gone. I wonder if in her subconscious she’ll remember it. I’m putting together a memories box and I’m just going to make sure I put loads of pictures of her in her buggy at parkrun. I hope it sparks some sort of memory.’
But despite the difficulties of saying goodbye to the children that come into her home, Jacqueline says fostering is one of the most rewarding things she’s ever done. When asked what her advice would be to someone considering foster care, she says: "Just go for it’".
'Once you make that final step you will get so much information, training and support, which will help you to make the right decision for you and your family. If you want to progress to becoming a foster carer, then maybe take baby steps to build up your confidence.
‘Trust me, it soon starts to feel totally natural to have an extra young person in your house. So that first step is to make contact with your local council via their websites. honestly it is the most rewarding decision I've ever made.’
Even though the challenge is over, Jacqueline and John aren’t planning to stop their campaign – in fact, they want to take it UK-wide and have already ticked Liverpool off the list!
If you've been inspired by Jacqueline and John's story and would like to run to fundraise for foster care, we have places on offer in hundreds of running events across the UK this year. You can search by distance, location and time of year that suits you. So why not take on a challenge for the fostering community today?
Find out more here.