New research from the National Lottery reveals the value parents place on positive sporting role models

With a new Northern Ireland record for most medals won at Commonwealth Games and the women’s football team of Northern Ireland culminating in a UEFA Women’s EURO tournament for the first time, it was a unique summer in sport. New research shows that parents find that physical activities like those featured on TV and in the media provide important inspiration for their children to be more active.

A new study released this week by the National Lottery shows that 80% of parents say the presence of sporting role models on television plays a role in encouraging their children to be more active. This was particularly true for girls, with 84% of parents saying they think raising the profile of female athletes plays a positive role in providing their daughters with role models to aspire to.

The National Lottery is now encouraging people looking for a way to get active to come to their local park run this weekend. parkrun is the UK’s largest mass participation event and has benefited from over £3.6 million in National Lottery funding to date. parkrun is a place for people to walk, jog, run, volunteer or come watch and currently has a presence in over 1000 communities across the UK.

Press Eye – Belfast – Northern Ireland – 9th August 2022 Sporting icon Lady Mary Peters is urging us all to get inspired and get active at a local parkrun this Saturday 13th August. L-R: Former Olympic and Commonwealth champion Lady Mary Peters, Parkrun Ireland manager Matt Shields and Parkrun runners and volunteers from Queen’s University Belfast, Meabh and Vincent Bradley. Image Matt Mackey / Press Eye.

Lady Mary Peters, former Olympic and Commonwealth champion and director of The Mary Peters Trust, a charity that helps young people achieve their sporting ambitions, knows only too well the power of sporting role models for our young people. She said:

“This has certainly been an inspiring summer of sport for Northern Ireland as our women’s football team took part in a UEFA Women’s Euro tournament for the first time ever, which must be a defining moment for the development of women’s football here and for many outstanding performances by our local athletes at the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham.”

“I am thinking in particular of Bethany Firth’s S14 swim in the 200m freestyle, which was Northern Ireland’s first gold medal of the Games; What an achievement! Then on Sunday, Amy Broadhurst became the first woman to win a Boxing Commonwealth gold medal for Northern Ireland. Kate O’Connor’s performance as a silver medalist in the women’s heptathlon was breathtaking to behold, as was the impressive performance of Ciara Mageean, who came home with a silver medal in the 1500m final. It was fantastic to see Rhys McClenaghan, Daniel Wiffin and Chloe Maccombe earn silver medals in gymnastics, swimming and para-triathlon.”

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“It was an outstanding Commonwealth Games for Northern Ireland, with our athletes taking home a new record number of medals, eighteen in all. I really don’t think we should underestimate the impact these sporting role models have on our youth. Listening to our athletes on TV so eloquently describe their personal journeys, their unwavering commitment to their sport, their gratitude for the support they have received both personally and financially, and their great focus, courage and determination is one such a positive impact on the next generation of athletes watching from home and dreaming of their hopes for the future.”

“Parkrun is certainly a great way to take that first step towards activity, even if the end goal isn’t winning Olympic gold! I firmly believe in encouraging people of all ages, both disabled and able-bodied, to get out and exercise.”

Vincent Bradley, a regular volunteer parkrun runner and Queen’s University Belfast runner, recognizes the positive impact parkrun has had on his family’s life.

Vincent’s daughter Meabh (soon to be 20) was born with birth trauma that resulted in cerebral palsy. Meabh is wheelchair bound and is nonverbal, although since March 2020 she has been provided with a communication device, provided to her by her speech therapist and school, which allows her to speak and communicate with those around her for the first time.

Meabh has been a student at the Fleming Fulton School in Belfast for 17 years, from kindergarten and pre-school. Meabh looks forward to taking a new direction in September 2022 when she will start a three-year Independence for Life and Work course at the Belfast Met.

Vincent, his wife Marian and two older siblings Finola and Ronan, who have retired from Belfast Public Libraries and are Meabh’s full-time carers, moved into their current purpose-built home overlooking Queen’s University parkrun grounds in May 2018 Belfast and have been part of it ever since the Queen’s parkrun family. Vincent and Meabh have each reached the 100 park run milestone.

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Explaining the importance of being active together, Vincent said: “Meabh just loves running with me. We recently completed the Lisburn 10k together in 48 minutes! It was just a wonderful day for both of us.”

Vincent said, “You might think I’m one of those pushy parents who takes my daughter to parkrun just to do something I enjoy. But you have to understand that it’s Meabh who insists it rain, hail or snow. She doesn’t want to miss a Saturday, even if that means dressing in five layers and wearing rain pants over it. She just says ‘don’t miss’ (parkrun) if we even suggest it!”

Meabh also fulfills her role as a park run volunteer who, like everyone else, does her 1 park run in 10 as a volunteer. She enjoys participating as a marshal or tail walker, making sure all park run participants get to the finish line safely and no one is left behind.

Vincent said: “Being involved in Parkrun was a real game changer for Meabh and I. It gets us up in the air, active and involved with a broader parkrun family that looks out for one another and encourages people of all abilities to get involved.”

Although he was an avid club runner growing up, Vincent gave up his racing shoes when work and family commitments took over. He explained that another by-product of his involvement in parkrun with Meabh has been an increase in his personal fitness, which has enabled him to compete again. He has recently completed both half and full marathons in Belfast.

Parkrun Ireland manager Matt Shields said:

“At parkrun, we want to encourage people of all ability levels to be active and improve their health and well-being. We know from surveys that there are many sedentary people in the community who would like to take that first step but are unable due to perceived barriers such as finances, self-esteem, fitness, skills, childcare. We try to remove these barriers whenever possible.”

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“With the effects of lockdown and Covid still rife, we now face the prospect of an additional economic obstacle, so the need for a free event like parkrun was greater than ever.”

“You don’t have to walk a 5k to be part of the parkrun community, you can walk, jog, run, bring your dog, volunteer and you’ll never be last because we have a volunteer tail walker who does the Distance behind goes all participants. All you have to do is register at and then download your barcode to scan on Saturday. I always say to parkrun newbies, if you’re not sure what this is about, why don’t you come along and watch, and then join us for tea or coffee afterwards? The most important thing is to come along and take the first step.”

National Lottery Ambassador and former Olympic and Commonwealth Games winner Chris Hoy said:

“Parkrun is a great way for kids to get active every week—and for parents to get involved with them. We all need to do what we can to encourage children to be more active – especially after the last two years of Covid – and research shows a positive profile of strong role models can help. Why not do a parkrun together as a family this weekend?”

Every week across the UK over 150,000 people take part in parkrun, including over 12,500 juniors.

The National Lottery plays an important role as the driving force behind sport in the UK, raising over £30m a week for good causes including vital funding for sport – including over £3.5m for parkrun.

The National Lottery and parkrun have joined forces to encourage people across the UK to take part in their local parkrun this weekend. For more information go to:

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