parkrun events across the UK have reproduced, over the years, tales of inspirational fitness journeys, the re-generation of community spirit and the abiding togetherness of runners. A recent incident at Hilly Fields parkrun exemplified this and more as Neil Cole returned to the event, where, two years previously, he had suffered a cardiac arrest and almost lost his life.
On New Year’s Day in 2015, Neil, having just completed the 5k in Lewisham, stood in line to get his time recorded, started to feel unwell and collapsed to the ground. His heart, he would later learn, had gone into 'ventricular fibrillation'.
Thankfully, a few of his fellow parkrunners had been trained on life-saving techniques and were able to administer CPR and did so for 10 minutes while an ambulance arrived. The four parkrunners managed to keep his blood and oxygen pumping around his body, meaning the ambulance crew was able to shock his heart back into a normal rhythm and keep him alive.
On the importance of their intervention that day, Neil reflected: “I now know that surviving an out-of-hospital cardiac arrest is rare – surviving for more than 15 minutes without a regular heartbeat is extremely rare – and making a full recovery without brain damage or ongoing heart problems is almost unheard of. They put my chances of survival somewhere between 2% and 4%.”
On Saturday 18 February, Neil made his first return to Hilly Fields parkrun to cap off what has been an incredible recovery over the last two years (his time was two minutes quicker than 2015).
The event was his 108th parkrun but his 50th “bonus run” since the cardiac arrest, made all the more memorable by the reception he received: “I got round, my heart behaved impeccably(!), and the reception I received from the Hilly Fields run director, volunteers and regular parkrunners was fantastic and, to be honest, a little emotional.”