It’s disheartening to move around the world to a place you’ve never been – especially if you don’t know anyone.
So when Hanieh Kosari arrived in Australia from Iran to study, she was understandably wide-eyed and nervous when faced with the reality of being immersed in a new culture.
The then 28-year-old had no intention of being here eight years later, but the community she has created has a magnetic pull.
“The goal was to get my degree, but along the way different things came and eventually changed my life,” Hanieh said.
Those life-changing events all started with a modest park run on Saturday morning.
Where it all started
It was 2014 and Hanieh had been in Australia for two weeks.
Living with an Australian family, she still had a long way to go, studying for a postgraduate degree in Environmental Engineering at Newcastle University.
Faced with years of computer work, they encouraged her to join the parkrun, a free three-mile run in a park down the road.
Hanieh didn’t like running, but wanted something to counteract the stress of moving, studying and sitting – jogging was just what she needed.
She says the atmosphere was a contrast to what she left behind in Iran.
“It’s not common to see people running in Iran like we see here,” she said.
“It was exciting to see how many people came in fresh at 8am on Saturday.
“They all smiled and welcomed new people, and that was wonderful.”
Hanieh met a lot of people on that very first park run at Blackbutt, but there was one standout.
When Hanieh met Rahmat
Rahmat had been running the park for a year before Hanieh came on the scene.
He also came to Australia from Iran to study. As fate would have it, Rahmat was also enrolled at Newcastle University. And it turns out they had mutual friends.
“A sweet couple I met through my landlady invited me for breakfast after the park run,” Hanieh said.
“That couple also invited my (now) husband to their home.”
And so they clicked and Hanieh’s first park run led to the beginning of a relationship that blossomed and eventually led to marriage.
The couple married in Iran and celebrated with their parkrun community when they returned.
They now also have a one-year-old son, Kian.
Hanieh and Rahmat both call parkrun the catalyst for a community that helped them settle in Australia.
“We now know a lot of people there and it was the beginning of a lot of friendships,” Rahmat said.
“You just have a family there.”
‘It is crucial in the settlement’
dr. Michelle Redford immigrated to Australia from the UK the same year as Hanieh and they became friends through parkrun.
As Parkrun’s primary care physician and health and wellness ambassador, Dr. Redford believes that building a community is beneficial to your health and to finding your way in a new country.
“It’s critical in settlement,” she said.
“I think unless you’re part of a community, unfortunately your health will suffer.”
Compared to other health risk factors, Dr. Redford that social isolation and loneliness often fly under the radar.
“Loneliness is a risk factor for people who develop both mental health problems and physical health problems,” she said.
dr. Redford has done more than 250 park runs, volunteered more than 30 times and built her own community there.
So, as part of the parkrun practice initiative with the Royal Australian College of GPs, she is committed to prescribing parkrun socially to her patients when appropriate, including those moving here from abroad.
“General practitioners have the opportunity to reach some of those harder-to-reach communities that can benefit the most,” said Dr. redford.
“Parkrun is a welcoming environment. It’s not really about running, it’s more about going along and being part of something every week.”
And so much can come as you show up week in, week out.
A job interview, best friends and a baby shower
In addition to meeting her future husband, Hanieh attributes parkrun to finding that close-knit group of friends who cheer you up.
“Some lovely ladies I met at Parkrun, they are now my best friends here in Newcastle,” she said.
Hanieh is thrilled that she had the opportunity to meet weekly to get to know them.
She says they have been there for her through the various lockdowns and every step of the journey to having a baby.
“Those dear friends I made at Parkrun planned and organized everything for me for a baby shower,” Hanieh said.
Again, when Hanieh was looking for work, she even got a job interview through her parkrun contacts.
“I was impressed with that interview,” she said.
That ‘community feeling’
Rod Pickering is an event director at Lake Mac Parkrun, another local of Hanieh and Rahmat.
With 180 runs and nearly as many volunteer caps, he says parkrun is a community-based event and has been for many years.
“We’ve seen a lot of new people pass by and fit right in with the community atmosphere we’re promoting,” Rod said.
“Every parkrun I go to, I experience the same kind of community feeling.”
Without Parkrun, Hanieh doesn’t think she would have the same support she does now.
“I don’t think I could find these lovely people anywhere else,” she said.
The same goes for Rahmat, who didn’t think he would live in Newcastle anymore.
“I didn’t know where I would end up,” he said.
Thanks to Parkrun leading them to a community, they’ve both landed in a place they can call home.
ABC Sport collaborates with parkrun to promote the benefits of physical activity and civic participation.