People would say. 'Girls don't play hockey, girls don't skate,' I would say 'Watch this'.

Hayley Wickenheiser
8 Hockey Sticks - Women’s Hockey in Afghanistan

8 Hockey Sticks - Women’s Hockey in Afghanistan

Posted by martin.parnell |

In the winter of 2016 /17, the NGO  started a very unique project in Bamyan, a town located in the foothills of the Hindu Kush Mountains, in Afghanistan. In partnership with the Canadian Embassy in Afghanistan and the Conservation Organisation for Afghan Mountain Areas (COAM), they facilitated the construction of a new ice skating rink, the very first one in all of Afghanistan.

International ice skating coach, Britt Das, was flown into the country for a few weeks in February so Afghan participants could experience the joys of ice skating. The project was aimed at young women (ages 10-25) from the region, but participants from other regions were also flown in to take part in a special Winter Sports Week.

 “The local girls were more comfortable with skating,” said Taylor Smith, Free to Run's Country Programme Manager in Afghanistan, “maybe because they grew up in a colder region and could ski already, so they were a bit more fearless. The girls from other provinces had not seen much snow or experienced sports, and were more hesitant. One was scared about falling through the ice, not realizing that it was only 10 cm deep.”

A big hurdle that young women in the Afghanistan program had to overcome was the opposition from the community, as well as conservative families who were not always comfortable with their daughters participating in sports. “That's why we focus on women,” explained Taylor. “Although apprehensive at first, the families were relatively open to allowing their daughters to participate in ice skating lessons because we’d already built that relationship and trust with them.”

Said one young woman from the program, “for me, ice skating was amazing because when I started skating, I was wondering, 'How is it possible to stand on a small blade and keep our balance?' It's another reason we can have confidence; if I can stand on ice with a blade, then anything is possible.”

I had met Taylor in the fall of 2016 when I ran the 2nd Marathon of Afghanistan in Bamyan and with the success of the ice skating initiative, Taylor approached me to see if I would fund raise for the re-installation of the ice rink and support the Winter Sports Week in 2017 / 18. My Annual December 31st Run / Walk fund raiser has been going since 2010 and last year we supported the first ever kayak and camping expedient for Afghan women and girls to the Panjshir valley.

So, on December 31st 2017, the 8th Annual Run / Walk took place at the Spray Lake Sawmills Family Sport Centre in Cochrane, Alberta. The temperature hit -48C and a total of 60 hardy souls came out that day and ran / walked distances of 2 km up to 50 km. In total over $6,000 were raised and the ice rink and Winter Sports Week became a reality.

In early March, Taylor sent me an email and told me that re-installation of the ice rink and Winter Sports Week had been a huge success. The coach they had hired, not only was an ice skating instructor but also had 16 years of experience in ice hockey. He donated sticks and pucks and introduced hockey basics and puck handling on the ice to the women an girls. 

Taylor continued that “Although we weren't able to get up to the skill level to play ice hockey- we were able to teach a lot of the basics through street hockey sessions. Given how much the girls LOVED the game, I'm confident they'll be able to play next year. We also now have 8 hockey sticks to practice with in the spring/summer as well!” 

So there you have it. The women and girls in Bamyan, Afghanistan have 8 hockey sticks. I think I know what my 2018, 9th Annual December 31st Run / Walk will be fund raising for.

If you want to watch the women and girls participate in the Winter Sports Week then go to:

Read More

The most beautiful discovery true friends make is that they can grow separately without growing apart.

Elizabeth Foley

How to Deal with Missing your Work Buddy when they Leave

Posted by martin.parnell |

According to an article on the Human Resources Director website, (May2014) the average working Canadian spends 1,702 hours at work per year. That’s a lot of time. In fact, it’s probably more than the time spent with your family or closest friends. 

When you think about it, if you spend that much time with your work colleagues, its little wonder that you build up close relationships.  We’ve all had that person who we usually spend our coffee and lunch breaks with, who we tend to sit next to at meetings, and share details of our out –of-work activities with, like what we did at the weekend etc. 

So, what happens if one of your closest working buddies decides to leave? 

It is a question addressed in an article I found whilst browsing through an old copy of Rotarian magazine (February 2016). In it, Steve Almond describes a situation where he had an unpleasant encounter with his best friend, a guy whom he had worked with for years and who was also his editor and mentor. During a business meeting the person directed a harsh diatribe at Almond, who couldn’t understand why this so-called friend was trying to humiliate him. It was totally unprovoked and out of character. 

After some time, Almond came to the conclusion that the real reason for his friend and colleague’s true source of anger: “ A few days before that meeting, I had told him I was leaving, to return to graduate school” and he felt that the rebuke was “a punishment for a personal betrayal.” 

As a result, Almond asked people whether they had experienced anything similar.  His friend, Jen told him that when one of her friends left their office, it left her feeling unexpectedly bereft: “I was depressed for a month. There’s this huge void. You feel it every day, every time you go to lunch without them, every time you look at their desk and there’s this stranger sitting there.” 

Our colleagues can become close friends and confidents. They come to know all our little foibles and idiosyncrasies and we get to understand theirs. Not only will they be able to understand the pressures you face at work, but they will know about your family and might be aware of problems you may have in your personal life and be a shoulder to cry on. 

Is it any wonder then that, if they should leave, they will be terribly missed? You may be required to step into their position or take on an extra workload. You will most likely have to adapt to working with their replacement. This is a time of significant change. But, bear in mind it’s not only for you, but for them as well. If their decision to leave is sudden and they had not made you aware, it can be even more upsetting. Try to remember, there is obviously a reason as to why your friend has decided to leave. It may be something beyond their control. 

Whatever the reason, whether it be due to personal circumstances, a promotion or they need a challenge, be supportive. If congratulations are in order, make sure you show that you are happy for them. If they are not moving away, make a firm commitment to stay in touch. Make a date to meet for lunch, in the near future. If they are going to a new job, this is a stressful time for them, too. Even retirement, despite something most people look forward to, can produce its own challenges. 

Try to stay positive. This, in some ways, is a new beginning for you, too. It may be an opportunity to make a new friend, spend more time with other colleagues and get to know them better. With a new person coming in, your experience will be valuable to them and your team. It might even make you think about your circumstances and ask yourself if you might be ready for a change. 

There is no guarantee that the people we connect with so well at work are always going to be there. Just enjoy their friendship, but as all things in life, be prepared to adapt if the situation should change.

Be glad of your friendship, make an effort to maintain it and know that your friend is going to miss you, too!

Read More

Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.

Steve Jobs

Is it Time for a Redesign?

Posted by martin.parnell |

If I asked you to close your eyes and think of an umbrella, I wouldn’t know what colour that umbrella might be, but I’m pretty sure I could describe the basic design. 

I was fascinated, therefore, to learn that a company, in the Netherlands, has come up with a completely new design for the umbrella. It was developed by Dutch company Senz, founded by former students of Delft University. They wanted to make an umbrella that was storm and windproof.

The new umbrella is weirdly angled, with one shorter side and one longer one connected at a 135-degree angle. The shorter end is the front, and the longer part is the tail. The designer, Gerwin Hoogendoorn says that the umbrella works so well because it mimics the aerodynamic shape of a stealth bomber.

Many of us will have experienced trying to open an umbrella, on a windy day only to have it turn inside out and the Senz model solves that problem, too. Also, there’s less fabric to wrap up, so the umbrella travels surprisingly well. The spokes are reinforced, and the stem is quite short, which eases the strain on your wrist and Senz claims it can handle 100kmh winds. Apparently, it’s become very popular, in Holland. 

When you consider that the Encyclopédie Méthodique mentions metal ribs at the end of the eighteenth century, and they were also on sale in London during the 1780s it would appear that time for a re-design was way overdue. This got me wondering about things, in general, that might benefit from an overhaul. Could there be a better design for a tea cup, a sunshade, a barbecue, a space rocket?

The possibilities are infinite. We may be frustrated by a teapot that dribbles or a can opener that’s awkward to operate, but, even though we could find something more efficient already on the market, sometimes it’s just easier to accept things the way they are, if they appear to be working adequately enough. 

Then I started thinking about less tangible things. What about the space we occupy, both at home and at work, could the way we use it benefit from a re-design. Do you park your vehicle on the road because your garage is full of “stuff” and have to waste precious time, in winter, de-icing it? Are your kitchen work tops cluttered because you have items in the cupboards that you might only get out at Christmas or Thanksgiving? It might be an idea to box them up and put them in the attic or under the bed. 

The same thing could be said about our work spaces. Have you used those spaces in the same way for years? Do you have space that’s not being used? Would employees benefit from having things moved around? Is that photocopying machine easily accessible for everyone?  Are employees eating lunch at their desks? 

Do you really need an extra board room that’s only used for a few hours a week, when there’s not enough space for employees to enjoy their lunch in comfort? Then there’s the issue of how we use our time. Could that also benefit from an overhaul? Think about the way meetings are formatted.  Does the way annual reviews are conducted need reformatting? 

How about the forms we are required to complete. Are all those questions telling us anything we don’t already know? Are we duplicating too much information? Do we have too many employees working on a task when their time would be better used elsewhere? Perhaps the design of your website could benefit from an update. Does your company logo look dated? The questions are endless.   

Just as Senz has created a new design for the umbrella,  redesigning or overhauling aspects of your home or working life may be solving a variety of issues that affect  the way you or your business operate. You might already have a very efficient work space. You may have already decluttered your home.  You may be super-efficient at managing your time and not feel that anything in your life needs changing. But, if you are a leader, in business, take a moment to look around and make sure it’s not only working for you but your colleagues and employees too. 

You may not feel the need to redesign anything. Everything may appear to be working well and efficiently, but it doesn’t hurt to check.

Read More

All the tools, techniques and technology in the world are nothing without the head, heart and hands to use them wisely, kindly and mindfully.

Rasheed Ogunlaru - Speaker and Author

How to Value the Tools of Technology but not Become One

Posted by martin.parnell |

I recently read a quote by Henry David Thoreau that got me thinking. Not long after, I heard a new word that intrigued me and the very next day, I read an article that I found disturbing. Coincidentally, they all appeared to be inter-related, so I decided to delve a little further in to all of them and see if there was a feasible connection. 

The quote came from Henry David Thoreau, an American from Concord, Massachusetts, who was, amongst other things, an essayist, poet, philosopher, abolitionist and historian. He was born on July 12, 1817 and died on May 6, 1862.

The line comes from his book“Walden”, in which he states:   “Men have become the tools of their tools.” I went on to read several articles on what this probably means to us today and many contributors relate it to our reliance on the use of modern technology. 

But, bearing in mind when Thoreau wrote this I wondered how that could be the case and so I tracked down the rest of the quote and it reads: “Money is not required to buy one necessity of the soul. Most of the luxuries and many of the so-called comforts of life are not only not indispensable, but positive hindrances to the elevation of mankind.” I feel that Thoreau was writing about society’s want of material things, which would have been household items or the latest in agricultural tools i.e. the latest technology of the time. 

With this in mind, I sought out articles about the quote and found brown7915's Blog posted on March 20th. 2013, in which the author writes: “Thoreau was part of the transcendental movement which took place between the years of 1830-1860. During this time a transcendental thought was based on philosophy, contemplation, and the discovery of one’s internal spirit. Transcendental thinkers despised consumerism, along with materialism. 

They believed that life should be purely intellectual and spiritual without the side effects of outside contamination. They also aimed for optimism. They believed in the beauty of life and that pollution of nature led to the pollution of the mind. Nonconformity was also a huge factor of transcendental thought.”

It’s interesting to note that Thoreau should make the statement when he did, as the industrial revolution was still happening. The transcendental time was right after the invention of the cotton gin. Also, telegraphs, sewing machines, mass-produced muskets, interchangeable sewing machine parts, and new uses for rubber occurred during this time period.  

If we think about the quote in respect to current lifestyles, it’s easy to see why many people relate it to our use of modern technology. Perhaps Thoreau became disillusioned by the rate at which things were changing, people’s preoccupation with these modern trends and their loss of appreciation for a more natural world. 

In response to the blog, Susan Reynolds, Teacher, StoryTeller at ABC Legacy responded on June15th 2017 by saying: “Instead of asking what this quote meant to Thoreau, I answer what it means to us today, especially for our teens. If this tool is a digital device in the times of digital dependence and potential digital addiction, we are at risk of becoming the tools of our tools, then the tools can manage us, rather than being a tool that we manage. 

When we narrow the focus to our SmartPhone and our reliance on the tool, almost as an extension of our minds, then we may become addicted to it, reacting to every ping, ding and alert. The research on the release of dopamine from a text message, tweet or like on our social media accounts are undeniable, so are we going to continue to be controlled by this if we are unaware of its power. The keyis awareness and intentional attention.  But it’s not that easy when the creators of the technology want to hook us.”

It was then that I came a across the word phubbing.

Apparently, it is a term coined as part of a campaign by Macquarie Dictionary to describe the habit of snubbing someone in favour of a mobile phone. In May 2012, the advertising agency behind the campaign, McCann, had invited a number of lexicographers, authors, and poets to coin a neologism to describe the behaviour.

According to

Phub - verb (used with object), phubbed, phubbing.


to ignore (a person or one's surroundings) when in a social situationby busying oneself with a phone or other mobile device: Hey, are you phubbing me? 

In my opinion, it’s a sad, if not disturbing sign of the times that it was deemed necessary to actually invent a word to describe this antisocial behaviour. 

Which brings me to the article, provided by Independent Digital News & Media Limited on April 9th 2018, with the headline:

 Quarter of children under six have a smartphone, study finds 

It reveals that, in a recent study: “Despite parents insisting that 11 is the "ideal" age for children to have a phone, 25 per cent of children aged six and under already have their own mobile and nearly half of these spend up to 21 hours per week on their devices. More than three quarters of parents paid up to £500 for their child's first phone with two-thirds admitting they don’t cap the monthly spend.

According to the poll: “Researchers also found eight in 10 parents don’t limit the amount of time children spend on their phones while 75 per cent don’t disable the data function so their children are only able to call and text. SmartPhones have become the most important piece of technology we own, connecting us with friends, keeping us updated on the world around us, and letting us capture our biggest moments," said Liam Howley of musicMagpie which conducted the research.

“The age at which children get their first phones, has got even younger, and while many agree that there’s no defined age to give a child a phone, there’s a lot parents can do to ensure their child’s day-to-day life isn’t consumed by one. Other than making calls and sending messages, it also emerged that 38 per cent of children used their mobile phone to play games.”

I have written in a previous blogs about my views on the use of modern technology:

  • Talk not Tech, remember how to enjoy the conversation / October 10th. 2016
  • Treasures in the mail and why handwriting still matters / January 23rd. 2017
  • The value of the personal touch when networking / March 20th. 2017
  • It’s important to recognise that communication is a two-way thing / March 27th 2017
  • Learning to be patient in a High Tech world / August 14th 2017

There is no denying that technology is becoming more and more sophisticated at a rate we could never have imagined, twenty years ago. We must make an effort and take steps to safeguard the future generation against becoming ill-equipped to relate on a personal level and too dependent on technology.

There is a place for smart phones, computers, computer games etc. But, we have a responsibility to encourage them to develop all ways in which to communicate and keep active.  

It is worth reminding ourselves of those words of Thoreau and try to relate them to our current lifestyles and make an effort to ensure that, in the modern-day context we do not allow ourselves to become “Tools of our tools.”

About the Author

Martin Parnell is the Best-Selling author of MARATHON QUEST and RUNNING TO THE EDGE and speaks on having a “Finish the Race Attitude – Overcoming Obstacles to Achieve Your Full Potential”. Martin has written for, or been covered by CNNBBCCBCThe Huffington Post, The Globe and Mail, The National Post, Runners World, Men’s Journal, Canadian Business, and Maclean’s.

In a five year period, from 2010 to 2014, Martin completed 10 extreme endurance “Quests” including running 250 marathons in one year and raising $1.3m for the humanitarian organization Right To Play. Find out more about Martin at  and see what he can do for you in the long run.

Read More