After 10 quests, five years, and thousands of kilometers traveled, Cochrane philanthropist looks ahead

thumbCoastal quest Martin Parnell

In the last five years, Martin Parnell has run thousands of kilometers, summited Mt. Kilimanjaro in 21 hours, helped more than 27,000 underprivileged children across the world and raised $1,367,000 for Canadian organization Right To Play.

With a passion for running developing later in his life, in 2010, after years of planning and preparation, Parnell made the goal of completing 10 ultimate “Quests for Kids,” to raise $1 million.

As of Oct. 2014, Parnell had completed all 10 quests and had raised just under $700,000 while encouraging the creation of play programs for more than 25,000 children worldwide. His five-year fundraising timeline ended Jan. 31, 2015 and with matching donations, Parnell surpassed his goal by an additional $300,000.

“To be honest, I’m blown away,” Parnell said shortly after tallying his final fundraising numbers. “So many people have been involved over the last five years to help achieve this figure.”

“It was really kind of wild. It’s been a very busy couple of years but so worth it,” Parnell gushed in Calgary’s Lazy Loaf and Kettle at our interview over Rueben sandwiches and coffee.

Parnell said that his last two quests, in 2014, were by far the most physically and mentally draining but as he couldn’t say enough, very rewarding. The 9th quest was a daring trek around the Southern UK, stopping by at his hometown of Devon.

Coastal quest Martin ParnellA year ago in March, Parnell travelled overseas his 9th quest where he ran along the Southern peninsula of the U.K. 1,100 km of rocky weather beaten path forced Parnell to walk the last 500 km because of an injured leg. $24,000 was raised over the course of his month long quest towards his $1 million goal.  

Photo Courtesy of Martin Parnell

“The idea was to go around the coast of England for 1,100 kilometers, a marathon a day, and sort of do five days on, one day off,” he said.

“Over that winter they had some terrible storms. There was lots of erosion, and mudslides along the path. I got there and I was thinking it would take me about seven hours to accomplish the marathon distance which wasn’t bad,” Parnell said. “The problem was that right away I realized that it was 10, 11 hours a day because of the damage to the path.”

If the grueling running schedule weren’t enough, at the end of each of his five days on, a fellow Rotarian from the county would pick him up, feed him and bring him to a speaking engagement.

“At this point, physically and mentally, I’m getting heavily run down,” Parnell said. “Halfway round, on about the 500 km mark, I was crossing a beach and smashed my left leg- damaged it pretty bad. I ended up walking the last 500 km.”

Parnell rallied others in the area to run around the peninsula with him and credits those he met along the way to getting him through to the 10th quest.

Sticking a little closer to home for his final quest, Parnell brought the organization back to its roots for the big finale.

“I went and chatted with the student leaders at the Right To Play university symposium and we decided it would be fun to do something together- across the 23 universities involved in Canada,” he said. “So we came up with the idea of doing a road trip across Canada, hit a number of universities and try to break some Guinness World Records.”

“We got enough players in nine of them to qualify so what’s happening now is they are sending the documentation to Guinness to see if it gets verified,” Parnell said. “We haven’t heard yet but it was a really cool event with lots of students involved which was great and it was a good final quest.”

59-year-old Martin Parnell did not become serious about running until his 40s. Having completed his first marathon, at age 48, in 2003, Parnell says he knew running was something that would keep him busy, “I was never much good at sport but I always knew I could run and run and run,” he said in a Dec. 2012 interview at his Cochrane home overlooking the Bow river.

But Parnell’s story started a decade ago with far more simple goals.

A cycling trip to Africa in 2005 inspired Parnell and instilled in him the desire to change. He spent many days playing various sports with underprivileged children along his journey. Through his interactions, he said he came to understand the importance of playing sports in the development of children.

“[Playing] is a universal understanding. I saw the effects of sport on the lives of these children across the African continent and I was inspired,” he said.

Upon his return to Cochrane, Alta, where Parnell and his wife Sue call home, he was introduced to the charity Right to Play in 2009, which “empowers children through sports programs in some of the most disadvantaged parts of the World.”

Parnell hopes to tackle 2015 with Aboriginal community outreach

As Parnell knows well, Right To Play has seen amazing successes over seas- especially in Africa and 2015 will see the organization branching out somewhere a little closer to home.

“Four years ago, Right To Play was invited into four First Nations communities in Ontario to come in and work with the youth,” Parnell said.

“They have started a thing called PLAY (Promoting Life Skills for Aboriginal Youth) It started with four and now they are in over 50 communities in Ontario and Manitoba and this year they are coming to Alberta.” He said.

Though the program is in its infancy, it is clear that Parnell’s passion to help kids across the world in unwavering. After the successful release of his first book in 2012 Parnell is excited to launch his second book in the fall of 2015.UofCQuidditch Martin ParnellThe University of Calgary was one of Martin’s first stops on a 16,000 km journey across Canada, breaking world records at universities with Right to Play clubs. The final of his 10 Quests for Kids, the Cochrane man is releasing his second book in Fall 2015. Photo courtesy of Martin Parnell

“The working title of this one is ‘A Few Quests More’. It starts in June 2011. The first book ends at my trip to Benin when I was really pumped up about doing all 10 quests,” he said.

“It covers up until the 10th quest and the four Guinness records, my trip to Barotonga in the Cook Islands, climbing Kilimanjaro, the TransRockies trip all that good stuff.” He said.

“Bringing it to the Canadian youth in the First Nations communities will be huge and it’s a perfect tie in to what I’m doing with my book,” Parnell said. “Hopefully out in the middle of September. It all helps with the speaking business so hopefully it’ll all tie together.”

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