Editorial: Child's Play on The Trails

TrailRunMag 28.12.2014


I believe the children are our future.

Sure, Whitney Houston may not have gone on to be the greatest role model of all time, but her lyrics hold truths far greater than her kitschiness.

Teach them well and let them lead the way.

That’s it – you gotta show them what’s possible if they are going to be able to lead the way.

Check all those kids setting themselves up for thumb arthritis as they ‘play’ on screens. Worse, check out all the dads (and it is usually the dads, be honest) at the playground tapping away on screens – “just getting off this last email” – while their kids stare in wonderment at a climbing apparatus.

“Dad, what do I do here…?”

Silence. Tap, tap, tap. “Uh, two secs, be there in a tick…”

And the kid looks to Dad and learns what is important.

IMG_8843That apathy toward physical play in the outdoors is dangerous. More dangerous than any perceived physical danger that lurks in the outdoors itself (a notion the cotton-wool parent may erroneously employ when justifying their child’s lack of outdoor play).

And here I (truly) mangle Whitney’s words:

Show them all the beauty that can be found outside.
Give them a sense of risk management to make it easier.
Let the children’s laughter remind us how good nature can be.

Okay, so my reworking is as awfully cornball as Whitney’s, I agree. And I guess I’m not sprouting something that most of you lot – trail runners – would find hard to swallow anyway.

So my point, then, is this: that it is up to us leaders of the active community to engage and activate beyond our own; to shove a firecracker called ‘nature play’ up the non-active crowd’s negligent parenting clacker.

Beyond our own families – and the number of kids-of-trail-runners already running singletrack warms the cockles of my adventure-loving heart – is a generation of kids who can be introduced to the recreation we love so much. And let’s face it, you gotta blood ‘em young – even your local drug dealer will agree there. And best we inject our kids with the natural green stuff called fresh air rather than any other nefarious substance.

The author, Richard Louv, in his seminal book Last Child In The Woods, speaks of Nature Deficit Disorder – where a lack of contact with nature increases the potential for childhood depression, obesity and other wellbeing issues. Tim Gill, an advocate for exposing children to risk and outdoor play, is well known for his thoughts on the importance of outdoor play and childhood adventure and how it engenders better risk management and resilience in children as they journey through adolescence to adulthood. Indeed, internationally and locally there are now dedicated movements such as Leave No Child Inside, Get Children Outdoors, Children and Nature and Take A Child Outside working to reconnect children with nature.

IMG_8848Importantly, as Richard Louv argues it is not just children with ‘outdoorsy’ parents who need to be reconnected – more importantly it is the children of parents who themselves are not connected with nature that must be also focused on.

Which is why it is so awesome to see the likes of well known ultra trail runners, Brendan Davies and Jo Brischetto, setting up things like Trail Kids, a small non competitive outing specifically designed to introduce kids to trail running. Check them out at www.trailkids.com.au.

As a parent of two daughters, I love this concept and it’s one I think should spread far and wide not just as something for our won kids but as a forum for everyone’s kids to safely experience what we all love: trail running. Because if we’re honest, it’s just ‘playing’ in the outdoors with an adult twst anyway (we add competition or mission to it to make it seem all grown up…but really, we just like splashing in puddles…)

My favourite trail runs of all time have been my shortest and least exotic ever: out and about on local singletrack with my eldest daughter. I’ve seen firsthand how trail running builds the resilience factor, too. My daughter is no rough and tumble type, with a delicate sensibility that – how do I put it politely – sometimes puts her in the princess category. Yet on trail, I watch as she kicked a root, went flying face first into the mud, a hard fall that would likely have had me calling it quitsville for the day. Yet she upped, dusted herself off and continued on running. Five kilometres. A six year old delicate petal turned determined dirty warrior princess. She now harangues me whenever I return from a trail run – can I go running with you now, pleeeease? Which is fine. Except when I’ve been out on a long run. But then, it’s my turn to be resilient and back up, for my daughter’s sake. And those moments I then have with her out on trail I know I will cherish forever – especially now, while I can still keep up with her. For I’ve noticed her form, I’ve seen her stride purposefully forward, dust herself off with Xena attitude…I know that it’s not that long until she’ll be off tackling mountains tougher than I’ve known.

And I repeat:

Let the children’s laughter remind us how we used to be.

– Chris Ord, Editor, Trail Run Mag

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Mt Buller

Larapinta strip