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Leon Parkes

An interview with Leon Parkers, founder of Nov Run Club

Leon Parkes is a strength and conditioning coach and founder of Nov Run Club, a running club that supports Black and ethnically diverse runners by providing a space for them to connect and run under the guidance of qualified coaches. Using Wembley Box Park as a meeting point, they run routes in the local area and are aiming to change the narrative around running by creating a community where everyone is welcome.

Growing up, who was your sporting hero?

I started out playing football so my first hero was Thierry Henry – he’s actually the reason I’m an Arsenal fan. Obviously he was an incredibly skilful player but he was also really passionate about Arsenal.

My dad and uncle followed a range of sports so growing up I was exposed to lots of sporting greats. Henry was my first real hero but I was also hugely inspired by the Williams sisters and the way they stood up to all the adversity they faced throughout their tennis careers.

Lewis Hamilton too – it’s been so special to witness his journey and to have been around for his whole career.

From a personal point of view, a huge inspiration growing up was a coach of mine – Jamie Lawrence. He redirected his purpose through sport, specifically football, and went from being sentenced to prison to the Premier League. He was sentenced twice after his parents left and he was drawn into crime. When he was serving his second sentence, someone saw his footballing potential and gave him a trial – seventeen months after being released, he had signed for a Premier League team.

It’s an amazing story and he still uses his personal experiences to empower and mentor boys and has written a book called Prison to Premiership. He was a hard coach who taught me about the art of the graft and consistency – and who may have made me vomit a few times!

What impact did your heroes have on you?

I think the one thing they have in common is they inspired me through the sheer strength of their determination to be great in every single game, despite everything that may have been working against them.

The Williams sisters faced constant discrimination for being Black woman making noise and doing things a little differently on the court. Lawrence allowed me to understand the mindset that is required to get to the top and the limits the body can be pushed to.

All these people helped me understand the kind of development and grit required to be an athlete, and what people have gone through to get to where they are.

How did these individuals affect your relationship to sport and physical activity?

Growing up I used to watch a lot of sports documentaries with dad and uncle and the athletes’ journeys always intrigued me. The environments they grew up in and what they had to sacrifice to get to the top gave them a relentless mindset that would allow them to thrive in any environment.

That’s the power of sport, it’s a discipline. You get tools for life through the art of play and it’s why it will always be part of my lifestyle.

Who inspires you now?

As I’m more active as a long-distance runner now, I instantly think of Eliud Kipchoge as someone I look up to due to the grace he runs with – you would never guess what he has been through to break those records. Right now though it’s a combination of those at the top and those around me. Seeing everyone within the running community, not just using their running to push themselves but using it to inspire other people too.