By MIKE COURSON
Great Bend Post
Running a marathon is not easy. Doing it while pushing a wheelchair may be even more difficult, but former Great Bend High School standout Jason Parr is up to the task to give a special needs child the opportunity to feel the thrill. A member of the Panther state champion cross country teams in 1999 and 2000, Parr has already finished two Boston Marathons. He's hoping to qualify for a third in 2024, this time as a vehicle for a child in a wheelchair.
"It's even more motiviating to push a kid that has special needs, knowing I want them to feel every part of gratitude that I feel being able to have the legs and capacity to do that," he said. "I don't really think about it much. It is tough, but it's so exciting just to get through each mile knowing we're getting closer to the finish line."
Parr also picked up various individual state track and cross country medals in his GBHS career before graduating in 2001. He went on to run at Barton Community College, and finished his degree at Evangel University in Springfield, Mo. He returned to Kansas to coach at Maize South High School. In his one season there, he won boys' and girls' state cross country titles in 2016. He spent the last five years coaching track and cross country at Friends University in Wichita before stepping down in May to pursue work at an alternative at-risk program school. But everything started when he began running for coach Jack Bowman at GBHS.
"That guy is a staple piece of why I get to do what I do today," Parr said. "I saw how he led young kids. I saw how cared about people. I saw the value he placed in every individual student-athlete. For somebody like me that needed somebody in my life at that time, he was so influential. I knew I could change my behaviors and change the things I was doing. I decided to run. That became a huge deal for me. It helped pave the way to pay for college. It still is part of what I love doing today, just with a little different focus now."
Parr has run in several marathons and Ironman triathlons - that's 2.4 miles of swimming, 112 miles of biking, and 26.2 miles of running - missing the Ironman world competition by just 22 seconds in 2018. He ran his first Boston Marathon in 2014, the year after the bombing. That year, Parr represented Team Hoyt. Dick Hoyt pushed his parapalegic son, Rick, through many marathons. The duo became icons until Dick's passing in 2021, and Rick's passing earlier this week at the age of 61. Parr helped the team raise funds to provide motorized wheelchairs for children with special needs.
"I think for anybody that's not a professional athlete, this is our Olympic experience," Parr said. "For any novice or recreational runner to have the thrill and opportunity to stand at Hopkinton Hill with 30,000 runners, just knowing you have worked really hard to get to this point of qualifying. I had the opportunity to be in the first wave, which is the fast wave, so it was really neat to be with some of the best runners around the United States and in the world. Words can't describe it."
Now living in Wichita, Parr started Parr's Purpose Ministry where he speaks publicly and writes training plans. The organization also has college ministry housing to provide discipleship for students. Part of giving back to the community, Parr is involved with Ainsley's Angels, which gives wheelchair-bound kids a chance to race.
"What we do is give an opportunity to be the legs for kids that want to be a part of the race - that want to feel the thrill of being a part of it just like I have had the opportunity and privilege to do," said Parr.
The group participates in several local 5K and 10K runs. Just last week, Parr and one of his kids made it through their first half-marathon together. On June 17, Parr will take it several steps further at the Grandma's Marathon in Duluth, Minn. The goal is to run a qualifying time for the 2024 Boston Marathon: three hours and 10 minutes as an individual, or three hours and 45 minutes pushing a special needs child.
"To really run a marathon effectively, it takes about 24 weeks to really put in that volume and time," Parr said. "This week I'm at week 14. I'll put in about 65 miles for my peak week, with an 18-20 long-run Saturday. I'm just trying to get my body back to where it was a few years ago when I was in peak race shape, but just have a much different purpose now. I'm just motivated to give kids an opportunity."
Parr lives in Wichita with his wife, Anna, and three kids: Adelynn, Amelia, and newborn Harlan. Adeline will carry on the Parr name at Maize South High School at the state track meet this weekend.