Connecting with veterans is a run in the park

William ‘Bill’ Greenwood remembers how abrupt his transition to civilian life was when he came back from Vietnam. He dealt with the change by signing up as a reservist – and stayed for another 30 years. Bill wants to help other veterans to stay moving and keep connected. 

“It’s very important for veterans to get out and get active. It’s all about our mental health,” says Bill, who is a member of the Dubbo sub-Branch and volunteer phone counsellor with Lifeline. In that role, Bill regularly speaks with veterans, hears what they are going through, and encourages them to join community events and sports for the camaraderie as well as the physical exercise – particularly the local Parkrun.

The free community event sees up to 400 runners and walkers gather at Dubbo’s Sandy Beach every week to kick off their 5k together, down the Macquarie River, across the bridge and back up the other side. It’s the combination of participating in the community, having the opportunity to connect with other veterans and being out in fresh air exercising that Bill says is especially important. 

Bill has completed almost 100 runs himself, 30 as a volunteer. His best time is 40.02, but he sets out each week to beat it. 

“Though I have to admit,” he chuckles, “when a mum pushing a double stroller runs straight past me and asks me how I’m doing, it takes the wind out of my sails a bit!” 

A positive, welcoming experience

Bill loves to see veterans getting involved in his local Parkrun, but events also run all over the world and veterans can run anywhere as part of Team Veteran. It brings communities together in parks across the world, for a positive, welcoming experience – Bill loves to see veterans getting involved.


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Caption: Parkrun is on every Saturday, right around Australia, and RSL has partnered with Invictus Australia and Open Arms to support Team Veteran. Find out more and join 600 Team Veteran Parkrun members.

“We’re an odd mob, us veterans,” Bill explains. “We have a special way of talking to each other and we can pick each other a mile off. My wife sometimes laughs that she might not get two words out of me at home all week but when I’m at the club, I won’t shut up! That’s how strong the connection is. So it’s important that veterans can find places to come together in their communities.”

Sport: reaching younger members

RSL sub-Branches looking to reach younger veterans as members or to ensure they are getting the support they need can turn to sporting and physical events, particularly family-friendly weekend events, to open those conversations.

“I’m a natural recruiter,” says Bill. “I love meeting new people and having a chit chat, and Parkrun is a great way to do that. I’ve met so many people. And, just like I do on ANZAC Day, I like to bring in the people who are standing back so they know they are welcome.”

And everyone is welcome at Parkrun. With professional athletes, people with disabilities, families complete with the dog in tow, and veterans aged from 30 to 76, Dubbo gets a big turnout. “We’ve got one young fellow who can run it in 17 minutes!” says Bill. 

But it’s not a competitive environment. 

“It’s really about connecting with other people and testing yourself. Everyone gets a big cheer – especially people from out of town or people who have completed a milestone. And no one packs up and leaves until the last person is clapped over the line.” 

Keeping up the momentum

Bill’s sure to remind his fellow members to show up for Saturday’s Parkrun, and around 10 members from the sub-Branch participate regularly, meeting other veterans there. 

“There’s even a fellow who’s ex-French Foreign Legion,” Bill says. “At the Friday night meetings I always get up at the end of general business to remind everyone about what’s coming up and where we can meet.”

“The strong link between Dubbo RSL sub-Branch and Dubbo Parkrun is a great example of two organisations working together to improve the physical and mental health of their community by bringing people together in a fun and social way,” says Parkrun’s Scott Trickett.

And with a couple of local businesses offering coffee and bacon and egg rolls after the run, there’s always plenty of opportunity for people to sit around and have a yarn over a brew. 


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