"Sport brings us together, it doesn't keep us apart."

Martin Parnell
Shaping the Future - One Active Child at a Time

Shaping the Future - One Active Child at a Time

Posted by martin.parnell |

On January 28th 2016, I was fortunate enough to attend the “Shaping the Future” Conference at the Delta Lodge in Kananaskis, Alberta hosted by Ever Active Schools. The objective was to bring together individuals from schools and organizations, across Alberta and beyond, to work to achieve optimal health, wellness and ideal learning environments for all students.

On the second day, a morning run was scheduled and at 6.30am a group of sleepy runners headed out into dark. We were led by Ryan Fahey, School Health Coordinator with Ever Active Schools, who handed out head lights to ensure no one got lost. Ryan explained that the run was sponsored by the Alberta Medical Association (AMA) as part of their province wide “Youth Run Club” initiative in Schools.

The footing was pretty tricky, as there had been a thaw freeze during the night. Watching the beams from our head lights bobbing along the road, it reminded me of my night run during the 100 mile Lost Souls Ultra. All I could see was a tunnel of light and several times wondered about the shadows in the bushes. We ran out 2.5 km and on the way back I chatted with Carmichael Day Chief. Carmichael is a Physical Education teacher at Aahsaopi Elementary School in southern Alberta. The school is located 30kms south of Fort MacLeod, on the western part of the Blood Reserve, nestled among the foothills, in the Belly River valley. The school is part of the Kainai Board of Education, whose motto is “Our children are our Future”.

Later, at the AMA sponsored breakfast buffet for the runners and other delegates, Dr. Carl Nohr, President of the AMA, told the audience that the “AMA Youth Run Club” had had its launch at Belgravia school in Edmonton in 2013 and there are now over 200 schools participating province wide. I had been asked to say a few words to the group and I spoke about the importance of being active in developing a child’s physical and mental wellbeing.

After the breakfast Dr. Nohr asked me if I would join founder of the Running Room, John Stanton, and Canadian triathlete, Paula Findlay, to become an Ambassador for the AMA Youth Run Club. I didn’t hesitate in saying yes. Later, I again met up with Carmichael. He mentioned that his school was a member of the AMA Youth Run Club and invited me to come and run with his students. That is a date I plan to keep.

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" The only person you're accountable to is yourself. Finish well and shine."

Martin Parnell
5 Steps to Finishing what you Started

5 Steps to Finishing what you Started

Posted by martin.parnell | Determination Finish Obstacles Potential

We are a society of non-finishers. On January 1st we wake up with a bright idea for a New Year’s resolution. In the UK, a ComRes poll for Bupa, a global health and care company, identified losing weight, getting fitter and eating more healthily as the top three resolutions. So off we go and buy that gym membership, diet program or treadmill. It is estimated that more than 40% of North Americans make New Year’s resolutions. However, as the old saying goes, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions” and a University of Scranton research study found that only 8% of people actually achieve their New Year’s goals.

It isn’t just New Year’s resolutions that we have problems finishing. We face the same challenges in the business world, whether it’s completing a project or making a sales target. So what can you do to give yourself the best chance of finishing what you started? Over the last 10 years I’ve learnt a thing or two about finishing. Challenges have included cycling across Africa, running 250 marathons in one year, climbing Mount Kilimanjaro in 21hrs, setting 5 Guinness World Records and, most recently, recovering from a clot on the brain.

What follows are 5 steps that will allow you the best chance of crossing that finish line:

What motivates you?

We say we want to lose weight, get fitter or eat healthy. The question is why. The motivation has to be strong enough that in the dark days you will continue to pursue your goal. To say you want to look better doesn’t cut it. To say you want to keep you with your grandchildren on a ski trip you’ve planned just might.

Visualise and commit to your goal

The key is to set a goal that has an identified outcome by a certain date. Then tell everyone about it. Remember life is like a plate of eggs and bacon, the chicken participates, the pigs committed. Fear of not accomplishing what you said you would do is a great motivator. If you want to run a 5km race in 3 months then visualise what this looks like as you cross the finish line, how you feel and the sense of accomplishment.

Have a plan and measure your progress

The key to success is having a road map and sticking to it. One of my favourite quotes is “I don’t know where I’m going but I’m making good time”. Don’t let this be you. Understand what you control and what you don’t. Keep a diary and write down what you’ve done that day. Share your progress with others even if it’s not always good news.

Get help

Whatever your goal is get help. When I started running I joined a running club, when I learnt to play lacrosse I got help from a grade 9 gym class and the Calgary Roughnecks. Never be afraid to ask, once people know what you’re trying to do they will step forward to give you a hand. Everyone wants you to succeed.

Be flexible but focused

You are going to hit obstacles, it’s not if but when. Accept them as part of the journey and do not beat yourself up about them. We all have bad days. However don’t take your eye off the ball. You may have to adjust the schedule and be creative but if at all possible stick to your goal.

Finishing what you started is not easy. It takes leadership, perseverance, discipline, team work, tenacity, creativity, resilience, attitude and courage to name just a few. Don’t let this put you off. The effort is well worth it and it will be a step along the road towards achieving your full potential. 

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"Every child has the right to play and every child has the right to play in a playground."

Martin Parnell
Playgrounds: Good for the Heart and Soul

Playgrounds: Good for the Heart and Soul

Posted by martin.parnell | Play

On December 31st the Martin Parnell 6th Annual Run / Walk will take place at the Spray Lake Sawmills Family Sports Centre in Cochrane. This year, the event is a fundraiser to raise $10,000 for a playground for the Lindsay Kimmett Kindergarten in the village of Mto wa Mbu in Tanzania. In Cochrane we have 29 playground but for the Kindergarten kids the closest one is 130 kms away.

The fact that these children have never played in a playground got me thinking about where did this concept of having a safe space for play developed.

The idea of the playground as a method for imbuing children with a sense of fair play and good manners originated in Germany where playgrounds were erected in connection to schools, although the first purpose built public-access playground was opened in a park in Manchester, England in 1859. Over time, organized playing areas have been adopted by other countries of the world and have become commonplace.

The first playground in the USA was built in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park in 1887 and in 1906 the Playground Association of America was founded. In 1907 recognizing the need for playgrounds, former President Theodore Roosevelt stated:

City streets are unsatisfactory playgrounds for children because of the danger, because most good games are against the law, because they are too hot in summer, and because in crowded sections of the city they are apt to be schools of crime. Neither do small back yards nor ornamental grass plots meet the needs of any but the very small children. Older children who would play vigorous games must have places especially set aside for them; and, since play is a fundamental need, playgrounds should be provided for every child as much as schools. This means that they must be distributed over the cities in such a way as to be within walking distance of every boy and girl, as most children cannot afford to pay carfare.

It’s interesting to note that Roosevelt recognised that “play is a fundamental need” and today we realise that this is true not only for children but also adults. Benefits to adults include:

Relieve stress. Play is fun and can trigger the release of endorphins, the body’s natural feel-good chemicals. Endorphins promote an overall sense of well-being and can even temporarily relieve pain.

Improve brain function. Playing chess, completing puzzles, or pursuing other fun activities that challenge the brain can help prevent memory problems and improve brain function. The social interaction of playing with family and friends can also help ward off stress and depression.

Stimulate the mind and boost creativity. Young children often learn best when they are playing—and that principle applies to adults, as well. You’ll learn a new task better when it’s fun and you’re in a relaxed and playful mood. Play can also stimulate your imagination, helping you adapt and problem solve.

Improve relationships and your connection to others. Sharing laughter and fun can foster empathy, compassion, trust, and intimacy with others. Play doesn’t have to be a specific activity; it can also be a state of mind. Developing a playful nature can help you loosen up in stressful situations, break the ice with strangers, make new friends, and form new business relationships.

Keep you feeling young and energetic. In the words of George Bernard Shaw, “We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.” Playing can boost your energy and vitality and even improve your resistance to disease, helping you feel your best.

So wherever you are on December 31st why not end the year with a “Play Day”. 

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"The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others"

How Employee Volunteerism is Good for Business

How Employee Volunteerism is Good for Business

Posted by martin.parnell | Employee Engagement Volunteerism

One of benefits of belonging to the Human Resources Institute of Alberta is the opportunity to attend their “Networking at Noon” sessions. These are sponsored by The Cooperators Group and focus on education, training and information. A recent session was on “Employee Engagement through Volunteerism”, a topic close to my heart.

There were many times during my 5 year, “Quests for Kids” initiative when I felt like giving up. Whether it was a leg injury when running the 250 marathons in one year, hyperthermia while summiting Kilimanjaro or mental fatigue in battling the coastal path in England, one thing kept me going, my commitment to raise funds for Right To Play and give thousands of children the gift of hope.

It’s been recognised that the act of helping others is very powerful. In a corporate environment this manifests itself in a number of areas including reputation and credibility, recruitment and staff retention, staff morale and work performance, training / development and local and international connections. An interesting fact from the UK is that 70% of the FTSE 100 companies already have a volunteering program but only 20% of medium sized businesses offer volunteering to their employees.

A report issued by Realized Worth stated that, “for companies where employees were more engaged than not, their profitability jumped by 16%, general productivity was 18% higher than other companies, customer loyalty was 12%, and quality increased by 60%”. The report also noted that “this is even more amazing when contrasted with the estimated $350 billion disengaged employees cost their employers every year just in the United States alone”.

During the session, Mavin Pawlivsky, Business Development Manager with The Cooperators explained the workings of their program. Each employee has two paid volunteer days per year and these can be used on a number of community initiatives. Groups helped include Canadian Blood Services, Meals on Wheels, Children’s Wish Foundation, ALS and Muscular Dystrophy. Marvin also talked about house builds in the Philippines, the international project employees undertook in 2015.

After the meeting I talked with Kate Barclay, Director, Human Resources for The Bodtker Group of Companies. Bodtker provides a comprehensive range of industrial containers and consumer packaging and they have 500 employees Canada wide. Kate explained that her company offers one day volunteerism a year to their employees but she was interested in the international volunteering aspect. I let her know that the Rotary Club of Cochrane are looking at participating in a house build project in El Salvador through Shelter Canada.

Volunteerism offers so many benefits for the employer and employee. Is 2016 the year your business lets it’s employees make a difference in the world?

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In life, it's not about reaching the finish line, it's about getting to the start line.

Martin Parnell
Sports for Life: Never say Never

Sports for Life: Never say Never

Posted by martin.parnell |

Over the years, I’ve played many sports, badly. As a lad in England, I was a huggable child. In today’s politically correct environment I would be known as fat. At school I was usually picked last for the soccer, rugby and cricket teams. This was pretty disappointing. However, it was offset by my parent’s love of racket sports. In the evenings and at weekends we’d play tennis, badminton and table tennis. The key wasn’t how good you were but playing for the love of the game.

I immigrated to Canada at the age of 21 and took a job at the Sullivan mine in Kimberley, B.C. This town is known for two things, Happy Hans, the Bavarian yodeler and skiing. At a ski swap I picked up a set of Lange racing skis, Nordica boots and poles and headed up the mountain. Next on the list was hockey. In England I had only skated once so, in my first season in the Kimberley recreation league, I looked like a week old banana with bruises on my hips, knees and elbows.

At 25 I moved to Yellowknife, the land of ice and snow. New sports included cross country skiing, curling and golf. Yes, golf. The fairways were sand and the greens were oiled sand. I even played snow golf with hockey sticks and an orange tennis ball. Over the intervening years, other sports included squash, snow shoeing, and fencing. At the age of 48 I entered my first 5km race and sprint triathlon, at 56, lacrosse and 58 it was Quidditch.

Now it’s time to try sport number 53, ski mountaineering (skimo). My friend Glenda suggested I check out an event call the Vert180. I didn’t have a clue what skimo was but a quick Google search explained that it’s something like running up hill with skis on then skiing down. Last Saturday, I had a clinic with Kylee Toth Ohler, one of Canada’s top skimo racers. For two hours, Kylee showed me how to attach skins to the skis, adjust the bindings for climbing up hill and skiing down and strapping the skis to the backpack for the “March of Death” section of the race.

The Vert180 is taking place at Canadian Olympic Park (COP) on Saturday December 5th from 6pm to 9pm. The objective of the race is to complete as many loops up and down the mountain as you can, in 3hours (180 mins). I think there’s going to be a few aches and pains the following morning.

So what’s next? Well, plans are under way to tackle sport number 54, pickle ball. Stay tuned.

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The Marathon of Afghanistan

The Marathon of Afghanistan

Posted by martin.parnell | Afghanistan Marathon Overcoming Obstacles Women Leaders

In the past I’ve taken running for granted. It was so easy to lace up a pair of trainers, head out the front door and within two minutes be on the Cochrane pathways. From there the options seemed limitless, along the Bow River and down to the rodeo grounds, up Big Hill Creek past the Cochrane Ranche House to Fosters Ranch or tackling the killer hill on Towers Trail to Wine Glass Ranch.

That all changed in February this year when I was diagnosed with a clot on the brain. No more running. Over the following four months I was allowed to walk but that was it. Then a month ago the specialist gave me the green light to start hitting the pavement again. It was like I had my freedom back. Now I’ve returned to training looking to run a marathon on December 31st at my 6th Annual Run / Walk at the Spray Lake Sawmills Family Sport Centre.

So it’s hard to imagine a situation where running is a luxury and a country that has never had a marathon. Well, this was true of Afghanistan until two weeks ago. On October 16th, the “Marathon of Afghanistan” was held in Bamiyan, high in the mountains west of Kabul. On a cold clear morning around 35 runners lined up at the make shift start line 3,000m above sea level. International athletes came from Canada, US, and Belgium, with local Pashtan runners, making up the numbers.

This group included 25 year old Zainab, the lone Afghan women. Zainab only started running a year ago when she applied for a grant from the organization “Free to Run” to complete in an ultramarathon in China’s Gobi desert. Free to Run is a non-profit organization that uses running, physical fitness and outdoor adventure as a means of empowering and educating females in conflict-affected communities to overcome the harmful effects of gender, religious and ethnic discrimination. To Zainab’s surprise she got the grant and her running career started.

She had many challenges during her Marathon training over and above the usual hydration and nutrition issues. “The children were stoning us, the people said bad words like ‘prostitutes, why don’t you stay at home? You are destroying Islam,” Zainab recalled. But, with her parents support, Zainab persevered and in the late afternoon on October 16th completed her first marathon.

Another runner, Baryalai Saidi, summed up the feelings of many who took part in the first Marathon of Afghanistan, “Every run is a victory”. Faced by a host of challenges, that the race even took place was a victory in itself, showing that things can be done and people can come together through things other than war. In fact they have already started planning for the 2016 “Marathon of Afghanistan”.

I’ll never take running for granted again.

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"Our prime purpose in this life is to help others and if you can't help them, at least don't hurt them"

Dalai Lama
Hope, Opportunity and Freedom - The Right of all People

Hope, Opportunity and Freedom - The Right of all People

Posted by martin.parnell | Freedom Hope Opportunity

At 9.14am, on Friday, September 4th 2015, my wife Sue became a Canadian Citizen. The ceremony took place in the Harry Hays building in Calgary and 90 new citizens, men and women, boys and girls, from 30 countries, were sworn in. I was one of a number of family and friends who applauded at the end of the singing of “O Canada”. The excitement in the room was palpable and everyone had huge smiles as they headed out the building. As Sue and I drove home, I mentioned to her that, as I was waiting for the ceremony to begin they had showed a video montage about Canada. It included scenes from Niagara Falls, skiing in the Rockies, First Nation peoples participating in a traditional dance and a lone skater traversing a frozen lake.

The other thing it showed was three words: Hope, Opportunity and Freedom and this got me thinking. The plight of the Syrian refugees has been harrowing and the death of Alan aged 3, Ghalib aged 5 and their mother Rehenna has hit a nerve around the world. Their situation was untenable as they tried to move around Syria and get away from the looting, urban warfare and barrel bombs. Their final desperate act was to go to Turkey’s Aegean coast and pay human smugglers to get them over to the Greek Island of Kos. The family joined seven others and boarded a flimsy dingy. They were fitted out with what looked like life jackets but they were all fake, they wouldn’t float. They headed out but only 500m from shore they hit choppy water and the boat capsized.

Hope, Opportunity and Freedom is the right of all people. Tyranny and oppression must be overthrown but until it is the repressed must be helped and that is a global responsibility. I was born in England and moved to Canada in 1977. In both countries there’s Hope, Opportunity and Freedom but I didn’t choose where I was born. It was only through the grace of God that I ended up where I did and it’s the same for all of us. I have a grandson, Nathan, who is 5 years old, the same age as Ghalib when he died. I know what he would want me to do.

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"Some people think football is a matter of life and death. I assure you, it's much more serious than that"

Bill Shankly, Liverpool FC Manager (1962-74)
Underdog - The Amazing Story of AFC Bournemouth

Underdog - The Amazing Story of AFC Bournemouth

Posted by martin parnell |

As a lad of 13 living in a small town in Devon in the South West of England one of my greatest pleasures was every other Saturday going to see the greatest football team on the planet, Plymouth Argyle. Of course, they weren’t the greatest team on the planet, and some seasons, not even the greatest team in Devon. But my dedication to them was unwavering. My Dad had supported them and so had his Dad and the tradition ran deep.

In soccer, it’s easy to support a top team. Manchester United, Chelsea, Manchester City and Arsenal all have had many highs over the years. Whether it’s Champions League, Premier League or FA cup triumphs these fans never seem to have to wait long to cheer about something. However, in the lower leagues it’s very different. Season after season you live in hope that one day a miracle will happen, that one day your little team will be in the lime light. In the case of Plymouth I’m still waiting for that day but 130 miles up the coast is AFC Bournemouth, a team that my wife Sue supports, and that’s a very different story.

In February 2008, Bournemouth were forced into administration, suffering a 10-point deduction which put them in relegation trouble. The club had debts of around £4 million and almost went out of business completely. They even had a bake sale to raise some money. The off-field uncertainty continued throughout the season, and the club ended up being relegated to League 2. Ahead of the 2008–09 season, the team's future in the Football League was put into doubt when the league threatened to block Bournemouth's participation in League Two, due to problems with the team's continuing administration and change in ownership.

It ordered Bournemouth to demonstrate that they could fulfil all of their fixtures and find a way out of administration, eventually allowing the club to compete with a 17-point penalty for failing to follow the Football League insolvency rules. Former player Eddie Howie took over as manager with the club still 10 points adrift at the bottom of the league and initially on a caretaker basis, becoming the youngest manager in the Football League at the age of 31.

Over the following 8 years things improved and this tiny club achieved promotion through the ranks of the Football League. From League 2 to League 1, then on to the Championship and this year into the Barclays Premiership. Over the next 10 months they will be playing some of the top teams in the world. In early December,  they play Manchester United at Bournemouth’s Vitality Stadium which seats a cozy 11,700 supporters. However, in the last game of the season, they’ll be traveling to Old Trafford, the home of Manchester United, which holds over 75,000 spectators.

It was a rough start to the season for the club with two, 1-0 losses to Aston Villa and Liverpool. But then a historic victory took place in their third game, a 4-3 win at West Ham United, their first ever goals and points in the Premier League. It’s not going to be an easy season for the Cherries but Sue and I will be cheering them on each week because that’s what you do when you support an underdog.

Do you have a team or sports person you’ve followed and cheered on from when they were an unknown to making it in the big time?

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"Retirement at sixty-five is ridiculous. When I was sixty-five I still had pimples"

George Burns
Retirement - What is it Good for? Absolutely Nothing!

Retirement - What is it Good for? Absolutely Nothing!

Posted by martin parnell |

In November 2003, I resigned from my job as the Human Resources Manager for Falconbridge Ltd, a mid-sized Mining Company. I was 47 years old and my wife, Wendy, had died two years earlier of Cancer. I was feeling empty and needed to do something about it. All I seemed to hear at work was how people had 5, 10, or 15 years to retirement. They were counting the days. I had 12 years to go for a full pension and it wasn’t going to happen. I had been with Falconbridge for 18 years and in the industry for 25 years. The company gave me a retirement party and gift, however, I wasn’t ready to retire.

I’m now 59 and over the last 12 years I’ve turned my hand to many different things. Some unpaid such as membership to Rotary and fund raising for the humanitarian organization Right To Play and some paid such as mining consulting, property development and management, substitute resource teacher, extras work in TV and Films, and my current endeavours as a book author and professional speaker.

People ask me have I retired or am I semi-retired? Honestly, I didn’t know what to tell them until now. Apparently I’m a “Pre-tiree” and it’s a trend that is going to have huge ramifications in the future.

According to an article by David Black published in a report by the UK company Zopa (December 2014) http://bit.ly/1hwYhzF:

  • ‘Pre-tirement’ begins in 50s and runs well into 70s, as Britons ease themselves into retirement
  • Britons cut working hours earlier in life, but continue in paid employment for longer: 17% of over-65s are still in paid employment and 30% of them are in unpaid employment
  • 89% of 50-54 year-olds say they don't know when they will retire, and 35% expect to retire later
  • Only 24% of those aged 55–64 said they would be financially secure if they had to retire immediately
  • Giles Andrews, Zopa CEO: 'Retirement is no longer about clearing your desk on your 65th birthday'

Pre-tirement is a seismic shift in the way we think about retiring. It is an opportunity for many people to stay healthy, give something back, spend more time with their families and continue working. Pre-tirement is set to become the norm as it provides both flexibility in the work / life balance and in financial planning.

So, what are your “Pre-tirement” plans? Remember, before you cross the finish line you have to leave the start line.

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"Don't worry about reviews. Even the Bible only got 4 1/2 stars on Amazon!"

Craig DiLouie Author
When Words Collide - The Accidental Author

When Words Collide - The Accidental Author

Posted by martin parnell | Non-Fiction Publishing

Over the weekend, I went to my first book festival, When Words Collide in Calgary. I had been asked to make a presentation and I chose the theme “The Accidental Author – Confessions of a Rookie Non-Fiction Writer”.

I love reading. I’ve always got a book on the go and at some point during the day I take 20 minutes and knock off a couple of chapters. It wasn’t always this way. At school, I had a love / hate relationship with the written word. English Literature was one of my favourite subjects and as a class we read books like “Animal Farm”, by George Orwell and dissected them with questions like “Why does it state: All animals are equal but some are more equal than others?” However, the flip side of English literature was English language. I was forever struggling (and still am!) with spelling, punctuation and grammar.

Over the years, I’ve realised that you can’t be shackled by your fears and when you really want to do something, you just have to give it a go. In 1979, I entered a short story contest on CBC Radio. My submission was called “The Ice Key”, a sort of “Games of Thrones” meets the “Minions”. A month later I got a rejection letter. I was very disappointed but as Wayne Gretzky said “You miss 100% of the shots you never take.”

My written efforts over the intervening years were sporadic. I kept a daily journal during a one year trip around the World and blogged on a four month cycle trip across Africa from Cairo to Cape Town. I dabbled in the world of self-publishing, releasing a book on the trip entitled “How do you eat an Elephant?” (one piece at a time). I sold 25 copies (all to me) and sent them out as Christmas presents.

In 2010 I ran 250 marathons and every day after completing 42.2 kms I’d blog about my run. “Marathon Quest 250” raised $320,000 for the humanitarian organization Right To Play and my PR person, Lyn Cadence, suggested I spread the word by publishing a book. I told Lyn that I couldn’t see me sitting down and writing a manuscript but Lyn gave me the best advice ever, the book is in the blogs. Lyn had me fill out a Book Proposal and she sent it out to a number of publishers. One stepped forward, Don Gorman from Rocky Mountain Books and after numerous edits and revisions “MARATHON QUEST” was published in the fall of 2012.

One twist of irony was that in 2014 CBC radio selected MARATHON QUEST as one of their top five books by an Alberta author. The wait was worth it.

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"Never over look the good in a bad situation"

Zig Ziglar
Thank You Scammers-Every Cloud has a Silver Lining

Thank You Scammers-Every Cloud has a Silver Lining

Posted by martin parnell |

The internet has brought many good things to the world, instant news, weather reports, finding lost puppies, and selling patio furniture. However, one curse has been the rise of online scammers. Will Ferguson's excellent book “419” highlighted the Nigerian diplomat scam and the devastation it wrecked on a family. Over the years I’ve received many requests for help from widows, students and lost friends who needed money to get home. I’ve also received emails telling me I’ve won huge amounts of money that are still sitting in bank vaults in Switzerland, Cayman Islands and Zambia. Generally, these scams are easy to spot and the delete button gets a work out. But once in a while something comes in that makes me take a double look.

A week ago I received an invitation from the Reverend Zipo Siwa of the Methodist Church of Southern Africa to speak at their annual conference in October. The email was well written and all they wanted to know was if I was interested. I used the mighty Google to check out the Reverend and the Church and everything seemed legit. The next morning the Reverend sent me more details, including the theme of the conference which was “Surpassing your limits-Attaining the Unattainable”. This was an excellent fit for me as my presentation is “Ordinary to Extraordinary- Changing lives one step at a time.”

I then received a letter of invitation and letter of agreement. The contract was very attractive, the fee offered was $30,000US which is around $125,000 Canadian, two business class tickets to Cape Town and 4 nights in a top hotel. Was it too good to be true? My Professional Speaker friends on Facebook were warning of a scam so I started to check some of the finer details of the invitation. The event was called the “Sola 5 Seminar 2015” and it does exist. However, it takes place in September not October and the event location was listed as the “Bernard Mizeki Centre” in Johannesburg, incorrect, it’s in Cape Town.

Then I saw the headline “Scam – Beware of Archbishop-Impersonator”. It was a post from 2013 by Mr. Rob Rogerson, Provincial treasurer of the Anglican Church of Southern Africa. He stated that “It has come to our attention that some individual, or individuals, are impersonating Archbishop Thabo Makgoba in emails designed to extort money, for example through issuing invitations to speak at conferences and then seeking banking details into which to pay travel costs.” I contacted Mr. Rogerson right away and he confirmed my fears, it was all a sham. He said he would contact the real Reverend (actually Bishop) Siwa and they would put a warning on the website.

So what did I learn from this episode? Well, losing the fee, flights and hotel was disappointing but what I really lost out on was meeting Reverend Zipo Siwa and sharing my story with so many people in Africa. I had spent a considerable amount of time reading the Church’s website and they do a tremendous amount of good work. They have several homes and even a village that looks after hundreds of the most disadvantaged and destitute children. At the Ethelbert Children’s home it states “The toddler unit cares for children of 18 months and older, many of whom are infected or affected by HIV/AIDS. We do our best to find adoptive parents for the children in our care, when their circumstances allow it, and are always thrilled when one of our children are adopted.”

Bishop Siwa and the Methodist Church of Southern Africa, keep up the good work. I’ve sent you a copy of MARATHON QUEST and maybe one day we’ll meet. Thank you scammers for the introduction.

On a final note. As I was finishing off this blog an email popped into my inbox. It was from Mr.Ernesto L. Isidoro. Apparently he has emailed me a number of times before but I have not responded. He told me that I am the beneficiary of an US$8.5m estate, just send bank details etc. Too good to be true? You bet.

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" You teach a child to read, and he or her will be able to pass a literacy test."

George W. Bush
The West Wing

The West Wing

Posted by martin parnell |

It’s been a long five months since I was diagnosed with “Cerebral Venous Sinus Thrombosis” or, a clot on the brain. Initially, there were many restrictions and I slept most of the time. Also, Sue had gone to England for her Dad’s funeral and I was spending a lot of time alone. I was bored and needed something to occupy my time. We have many DVD’s and I thought maybe I could rewatch Battlestar Galactica. I’m a big science fiction fan and can you really go wrong with Cylons taking over the planet? Well, apparently you can and I soon got bored watching reruns. Then, at the back of the shelf, I spotted the complete box set of “The West Wing”. Sue had bought me this gift for one of my birthdays and it had just sat there never seeing the light of day. Every so often she would suggest we watch it and but I didn’t show too much enthusiasm. However, these were desperate times and I popped the first disc in the DVD player. An hour later, I was hooked.

The series is set primarily in the West Wing of the White House, where the Oval Office and the offices of the presidential senior staff are located, during the fictional Demographic administration of Josiah Bartlet (played by Martin Sheen). The show ran from 1999 to 2006 and in total there were 156 episodes. Over those seven years the show won three Golden Globe Awards and 26 Emmy Awards. The story line took us through the two, four year terms of President Bartlet and the election of another Democrat President, “Matt” Santos (played by Jimmy Smits).

The stories were well written and what was fascinating was comparing the status of the issues today to the ones highlighted in the series 10 years ago. Some have changed. Legislation of gay marriage, a nuclear deal with Iran, diplomatic relations with Cuba and the establishment the Affordable Care Act. However, some that have not include Gun control and illegal immigration. Now, here we are in 2015, and two election races are under way, one in Canada for October and the other for the USA Presidency in 2016. Leading candidates, south of the boarder, are Hillary Clinton for the Democrats and Donald Trump for the Republicans and in one of those “fact is stranger than fiction” items Hillary Clinton was diagnosed with “Cerebral Venous Sinus Thrombosis” in December 2012, after suffering a concussion from fainting. She has since made a full recovery and is hitting the campaign trail while, for me, it’s time to switch off the TV and to hit the running trail.

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Redwood Meadows Aboriginal Day

Posted by martin parnell |

Sue and I love going to community events in Cochrane and area. Some of the highlights are Footstock, Canada Day festivities at Mitford Park, the Labour Day parade and the Outhouse races in late September. Slightly further afield, is the Redwood Meadows Aboriginal Day, which took place, this year on June 21st.

Although activities didn’t start until 11.00am, we arrived 9.30am, as I wanted to get in my daily walk, beforehand. Redwood Meadows is a beautiful community. We started from Redwood House, headed north east along Many Horses Drive until we crossed on to Redwood Berm Trail. This pathway follows the Elbow River back into the community and ends at the Redwood Meadows Golf and Country Club. By the time we had arrived back to the start we had covered 6.5 kms and volunteers were setting up for all the activities that were due to take place, both indoors and out.

Seminars were schedule for the afternoon in native culture, medicinal knowledge and a dream catcher workshop for children. After enjoying a cup of coffee, we made our way out to the field. The Mayor of Redwood Meadows, Liz Erasmus said a few words, and members of the Tsuu T’ina nation opened Aboriginal Day with a traditional dance. They were accompanied by a group of drummers who also performed a song in honour of Fathers, it being Father’s day. Everyone thoroughly enjoyed the performances and seeing the beautiful traditional dress.

Some people then headed into Redwood house but Sue and I headed into the vendors tent. There we met Kalum Teke Dan, an artist whose work is very powerful. He lives in Calgary, but originates from the Blood Tribe in Southern Alberta. He was first inspired to create art from his grandparents, who were known internationally for their bead work and traditional regalia. Mostly self-taught, and dealing in both oil, acrylic and watercolour, Kalum has become known for his strong portraiture and his stunning wildlife depictions.

He told us that he knew that this is what he had always wanted to do. As a kid he would knock on doors trying to sell his pictures. Many times he had no for an answer but he never gave up. In the fall he’s heading over to Prague for an exhibition and a book signing. You may have the opportunity to see Kalum’s work at one of the Pow Wows taking place this summer.

On the way home Sue and I chatted about how lucky we were to be able to spend a day experiencing another culture. Sometimes you have to travel thousands of miles to do that, but for us it was only 30 kms down the road, at Redwood Meadows Aboriginal Day.

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The Long Walk to Recovery

Posted by martin parnell |

In my last blog, which appreared in early February, I wrote about a holiday Sue and I had taken to Cuba. A lot has happened since then. In late February, I made a trip to Winnipeg, to give a presentation. Whilst there, I was taken ill and ended up in the Emergency Room at Grace Hospital. A scan revealed that I had an extensive blood clot, in my brain and I was diagnosed with “Cerebral Venous Sinus Thrombosis”. I was transferred to the Health Sciences Center and what started out as an overnight trip turned into a two week stay.

 Sue flew out and sat at my bedside. At first I was heavily sedated and on large doses of pain relief. Meanwhile, the doctors set about finding the right levels of medication to thin my blood, get my high blood pressure under control and reduce the amount of spinal fluid that had accumulated in my brain.

My vision had been severely affected, due to pressure on my optic nerve and I had great difficulty concentrating. But, eventually, it was decided the best place for me would be back in Alberta, as Rockyview Hospital is deemed to be a center of excellence for dealing with my type of condition, which is very rare, only 5 in a million.

Back in Cochrane, I was having daily blood work and visits to the doctor, to track the effectiveness of my medications, ten a day, in all.

On March 27th I spent an hour with Dr Subramanium, a neuro-ophthalmologist at Rockyview. His expertise is in the effects of strokes and other brain disorders.

He explained that the clot had started to grow in late January and, if it had gone untreated for another week, I would have been in a coma, or worse. The clot had put pressure on the optical nerve causing double vision. I asked the specialist a number of questions about what physical activities I could or could not do. He explained that the long term prognosis is good but, at the moment, I am unable to run, swim, bike or drive. He said the one thing I could do was walk.

I started with a 3 km walk following a route in the West End of Cochrane up to the Heartland development, and around West Pointe. I then got up to 5km with an out and back to the railway bridge. By the end of March I was up to 8km per day, adding a section along the Bow River. This distance was taking me around 1 hour 40 minutes and I found that with a pace of 100 steps per minute I was covering 10,000 steps.

This is a good daily target and with all the medical restrictions I have it makes me feel better physically, mentally and spiritually. It’s the one thing that I have control over.

Walking together, Sue and I have covered a large section of the pathway system in Cochrane. Out to the East End and the zig-zag, “San Francisco” street: across the old trestle bridge and up into Riviera and River Song or out to the Ranche House and up to Fosters. It’s great to see the town crews installing the new bridges over the creeks and paving old sections of the red rock pathway to allow year round use.

After my diagnosis I’m looking at things a little different now. The seriousness of it was brought home to us when on April 13th. Sue’s Dad, collapsed and died from a massive stroke. I have to watch certain things in my diet, take frequent naps and monitor my blood pressure. My eyesight is still affected and I still have double vision, but I am able to read for a short while if I wear a patch.

 I’m loving the walking and, as Sue says, “It’s just slow running”.

If you see me on the pathways, give me a wave and I’ll be sure to wave back, ‘though I may be seeing two of you!

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Posted by martin.parnell |

Cuba may well be about to change. Barrack Obama has said that he wants to normalize relations between The USA and Cuba and this will probably be good for its people. It will be interesting to see in what way it will change one of the most fascinating countries in the world.

Sue had mentioned taking a trip to Cuba, as our reward for my finishing the 5 year “Quests for Kids”. We wanted to visit Havana, so I found a small resort, on the beach, one hour from the capital. Over the next eight days, we took a day trip to Havana, visited some underground caves, learned to Salsa and visited Hersey Town, a model community built by Milton Hersey, the chocolate maker.

One of the most interesting things, however, was chatting to some of the locals. Merina was the representative for Sunwing at our resort and every day we would find her in the lobby, helping tourists organise their day trips. She told us she was married with two children and her husband worked at a resort in Varadero. They have no car so she has to hitch-hike to work. This is quite common because so few people have their own vehicles that the Government has mandated that drivers who have space have to pick up hitch-hikers.

Estoban was the guide who took us to the Ballamar caves and, as we drove along, he told us his life story. He went to university to study Agricultural Engineering. After graduating he worked as a Project Manager, Communist Party organiser, Customs Officer and is now a tour guide. He said that the Government provides many free things such as milk, for children under the age of 7, but other things, like cooking oil and rice are rationed. He told us that there is no real drug problem in Cuba, but a thriving big black-market in cigars. He has four children and is hopeful that, with the lifting of the embargo, things will improve for them, over the next few years.

Pedro works for the resort and does everything from dance instructor to trail-hike guide. He is 32 years old, trained as a teacher and completed his compulsory time in the army. The hotel pays 400 pesos per month for the work he does, of that he gets 40 pesos and the Government takes the rest. He wishes he had access to the Internet, which is currently unavailable to Cubans, but is pleased that at least now he can have a cell phone. He can’t afford to travel but even if he could there are only certain countries that would allow him to enter. His final comment was that “In Cuba you cannot dream. We live in a Paradise Prison”.

Hopefully things are about change for the better for Merina, Estoban, Pedro and all Cubans.

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The Final Marathon

Posted by martin.parnell |

Well this is it, Wednesday December 31st 2014, the final day of the 5 year “Quests for Kids” initiative. It all started on January 1st 2010 on a bitterly cold morning on the 1A highway just outside of Cochrane, Alberta. It was -31C and a group of us were huddled on the side of the road waiting for the marathon to begin. This was the start of Marathon Quest 250, to run 250 marathons in one year, raise $250,000 for Right To Play and I couldn’t wait to get going. Media from Cochrane and Calgary were in attendance and at exactly 9.00am Mayor Truper McBride blew the whistle and we were off. Five and a half hours later the 42.2 kms were completed and the journey had begun.

A lot of water has passed under the bridge since that day and I had mixed emotions heading down to the Spray Lake Sawmills Family Sports Centre on the morning of the 31st. The set up for the 5th and Final MQ250 Run / Walk was pretty simple; mark the 2 km loop and set up the table for registration and donations. I was there at 8.00am and already several marathoners had arrived. Long-time supporters Angie, Hero and Lourdes signed up and by the time 9.00am came around there were 25 runners ready for the off. I did the count down from ten, blew my trusty whistle and away we went.

During the day runners and walkers came out to do their thing. Blanche Ellis, 82, did her first 2km run. Her son Roy gave her a hand because of the footing but she was thrilled as she crossed the line. Mums and dads brought out their kids and every child received a medal sponsored by the Calgary Marathon. We were lucky with the weather. In previously years we had run in the -20C and -30C but today it was -6C with a light wind.

My run was going well until the 32km mark. I hadn’t done a very good job of hydration or nutrition and I was feeling a bit light headed. I was running with my friend Ally and she was feeling the same. As we were moaning and groaning we met Gulled along the path. Gulled is from Somalia and was doing his first half marathon. He told us that as a child he had half a day a week free from work but even during that time he was not allowed to play. He totally believes in what Right To Play is doing and that it is a crime that children do not have the right to play in many areas of the world.

After speaking with Gulled, Ally and I were reenergised and pushed our way through the final kms. The last loop is called the “Cookie” loop and everyone one grabbed their cookie and ran. Sue joined me for the final 100m and she has been with me from the start line on January 1st 2010.

As one chapter ends so another one begins. I’m not exactly sure what it’s going to be but stay tuned.

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Posted by martin.parnell |

Anniversaries are important. Whether it’s a birthday, wedding, or the day you got your first bike. Today, December 31st is significant to me, for a number of reasons. This was the day, in 2003, when I met Sue at New Year’s Eve party. I was in England visiting family and Sue was a friend of my sister Jan. We had a long distance relationship for a couple of years visiting each other in England, Canada and Denmark. Then in 2005 Sue came over to Canada and has been by my side ever since.

I have also written 100 articles for the Cochrane Eagle. In the first one, back in March 2011, I talked about how to run an Ultramarathon. Over the years, my articles have covered such topics as applying for Mantraker, visiting Benin in West Africa, taking a session of Aquasize, participating in the Kimmett Cup, the importance of good grammar, collecting a ton of pennies for Right To Play, the Kraft Celebration Tour, learning to play sledge hockey, helping out at High River and Morley after the flood, the exploits of the Detroit Mower Gang, running with Jamie McDonald and looking after the needs of 4 month old grand baby Matthew Conner.

Today is the 5th Anniversary of the last of the 250 marathons I ran in 2010. As you read this blog a group of us will be running / walking from Spray Lake Sawmills Family Sports Centre along the Bow River on 2 km loops, through the off-leash, down to the old trestle bridge and back. This event marks the end of “Quests for Kids”, my 5 year initiative to complete 10 Quests, raise $1m for Right To Play, and helping 20,000 children. So far we’ve raised over $660,000 and there’s still time to donate at www.canadaquestforkids.com .

Over the years the Cochrane community has played a huge role in this endeavour. Every school in the town has held fund raisers, including hockey games, Dodgeball tournaments and bake sales. Many residents hold Guinness World Records having participated in the longest game of Soccer or the biggest game of Hockey. I’m sure Cochrane has the most Guinness World Record holders per capita in all of Canada.

Wishing everyone a wonderful and fulfilling 2015 and a very big THANK YOU Cochrane, I couldn’t have done it without you. 

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10,000 Tennis Balls

Posted by martin.parnell |

It’s 3.00am on Thursday, December 5th and I’m playing tennis at a beautiful sports facility in Fredericton, New Brunswick. Across the court is Sherri. She hasn’t played tennis since the age of 6 but she has a dream. In March of next year she wants to go to Club Med and play tennis. We rally back and forth when suddenly there’s a “Thud” and the lights go out. All that Sherri and I can see is a fluorescent yellow orb floating in the air and the rally goes on.

I love tennis. I was 11 when Mum and Dad took over an old sprawling property from my Grand Mother. On the grounds was a tennis court, however, tennis hadn’t been played on it for a number of years. It was over grown and looked like a cow patch. Over a Spring and Summer Dad cut down the brambles, rolled the grass and built a wood fence with netting all around it.

My job was to line the court. I found the dimensions in an old Encyclopedia Britannica and using a huge ball of string staked it out. Next, I painted the string with creosol, killing the grass. Finally, I mixed up a bucket of lime and water carefully brushing it along the burned strip and, voila, a tennis court was born. Many hours of tennis was played with my parents, siblings and friends. But as with all good things, life gets in the way and I hadn’t played for years.

Then two months ago I met Rufus Nel. Rufus is a triathlete, ultra-runner and the Head Professional at the Abony Family Tennis Centre in Fredericton, New Brunswick. After an hour of chatting an idea was born, 24 hours of Tennis in support of Right To Play. So, on December 4th at 6.00pm I’m ready to step on to the court. My friend, Tom Healy, has lined up an amazing schedule. For the first 45 minutes I play New Brunswick Premier Brian Gallant. It’s a hard fought affair and my elbow is sore. Not a good thing with 23 hours to go.

As Wednesday evening turns into night players arrive to take their turns. I have all my supplies at hand; sandwiches, brownies, bananas and coffee. Six hours in and fatigue is taking its toll. My elbow is tender and legs are starting to feel heavy. By the time Sherri arrives I needed another coffee. Sherri is a natural and I’m telling her this when the lights go out. For 10 minutes we continue to rally in the dark, the ghostly ball shaped form travelling backwards and forwards over the net. Slowly the lights come on and after an hour Sherri finishes her practice. As she leaves she says that she’s determined to play tennis at Club Med. Brilliant.

Night turns to day and groups of school children start to pour in from Park Street, George Street, Fredericton High, Chief Harold Sappier, Devon Middle and Montgomery. What a morning and afternoon, balls are flying everywhere and the kids are having a blast. The hours and minutes tick by and finally it’s 5.55pm, only 5 minutes to go. Tom and Rufus join me for the final game and as the clock strikes 6.00pm a huge cheer goes up, 24 hours of Tennis is in the bag.

The tennis marathon was a tremendous success. Over $4,000 had been raised for Right To Play, 350 children had played tennis and I had got to relive some wonderful memories of playing tennis as a kid with Mum and Dad.

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Baby Quest

Posted by martin.parnell |

Life is full of firsts. I ran my first marathon at the age of 48, completed my first Ironman Triathlon at 50, set my first Guinness World Record at 56 and changed my first diaper at 58.

This week I’ve had daughter Kristina and 4 month old Grand Baby Matthew Connor (GBMC) visiting from Sudbury, Ontario. You may ask, “Didn’t you change Kristina’s diapers when she was a baby?” and the answer is no. Kyle and Kris were adopted at the ages of 4 and 2 respectively and Kris was already potty trained by the time she came to live with us. I’m sure she’s going to be thrilled to learn that this snippet in information has hit the wire.

The second evening they were with us Sue and Kris headed out and left me with GBMC. Fortunately Kris left me a “Baby 101 Crib sheet” and this is what it said:


  • Unzip sleeper / unsnap undershirt.
  • Remove diaper and place in wet bag.
  • Wipe bum if required.
  • Put on clean diaper and snap closed.
  • Close undershirt / zip up sleeper.


  • Take bottle out of fridge and remove cap.
  • Microwave for 45 seconds and add Formula.
  • Put cap back on and shake until mixed.
  • Feed baby.
  • Burp baby as needed (sorry if he pukes!).

Cereal (night only)

  • Add warm water to cereal until it is the consistency of yogurt.
  • Put baby in blue chair.
  • Feed small spoonful’s, wait until one is done before giving another.
  • Some may dribble down his chin, scrape up and feed it to him.
  • Wipe face when done.


  • Change into disposable diaper.
  • Burrito baby.
  • Feed bottle.
  • Place in playpen.

I’ve had this list on the fridge and it’s worked a treat. I learned a couple of other tricks including letting GBMC chew my knuckles and singing to him. We also played a game called “Baby Triathlon” where I started off by working his legs in a breast stroke movement then switched to a cycling motion and finally to a running action. He loved that.

Both GBMC and I use Apps. His is called “Sprout” and mine is “Dailymile”. On Dailymile I keep track on how far I’ve run, how long it took me and how many calories I’ve burnt. On Sprout, GBMC keeps track of diaper changes, feedings times and naps. A combination of the two, “DailySprout”, would have a lot of potential!

Daughter Kris and GBMC are off in a couple of days and Sue and I are really going to miss them. However, I am going to leave the “Baby 101 Crib sheet” in a safe place. We have two sons and who knows what the future will bring.

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Posted by martin.parnell |

It’s great to get help when you’re trying to achieve a goal. In Canada Quest for Kids my food sponsor was McDonalds. My running buddies had suggested that I would come back as “Fat Boy” but I had a different plan. I down loaded all the nutritional information from their menu options and figured out what would work for me. Then I set myself a goal: To drive across Canada from BC to NFL, eat McDonalds and not gain a pound. I weighed myself on September 17th and again on October 14th, 10,000 kms and 31 McDonalds meals later the results are in: I weighed in at 174.6 lbs and weighed off at 171.6 lbs, a loss of 3 lbs.

But as they say the devil is in the details, so let’s start. In total I ate 31 meals with 79 food / drink items, at 25 different locations in 8 Provinces in 27 days. These items were: 1 McLobster (no bun), 1 Filet of Fish, 2 Water, 3 Teas, 3 Egg McMuffins, 4 Apples, 4 Cookies, 4 Angus Burgers (no buns), 5 McWraps, 7 Salads (large and side), 9 Oatmeal, 17 Coffees (Americano / Mocha), 19 Milk.

Some other key points include: Different weigh scales were used for the weigh in and weigh off, other meals were taken at other food establishments and home cooking, I ran 85 kms and participated in 10 Guinness World Records.

Overall McDonalds provided good food options and excellent service. A couple of suggestions include; get rid of the Filet of Fish, it looks like and tastes like a breaded beer mat, why not introduce a McSalmon? Also, a soup would be good, say a McMushroom. Looking to the future maybe a McPub with beer from their McMicrobrewery. All I can say to that is McCheers.

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