A Life-Changing Experience for Indigenous Australians
History is made as young indigenous athletes took a midnight run for the annual Indigenous Marathon Project. In the lands of the Arrernte people in the heart of the country, a dozen of inspiring young men and women changed their lives.
Basically, each year, IMP selects a group of 12 Indigenous Australians – composed of six men and six women – to train for six months, taking them to the grand running stages of New York, Boston, Tokyo, London, Paris and Berlin.
These young athletes are supposed to compete on November 2, in the New York Marathon. However, following the safety protocols of this pandemic, it was cancelled, forcing the IMP to return to where it all started.
Robert de Castella, the brains of this program, has been doing this for the past decade – changing the lives of the indigenous youth. Using their skill set and dynamic knowledge, these young Australians manifest healthy lifestyle as leaders in their respective communities.
They influence their people to foster change, adopt a healthy lifestyle and create a sense of empowerment and pride. This has been de Castella’s goal for years.
The marathon was commenced on a Saturday, at 10 PM. Pushing their physical and mental boundaries to a new level, these young athletes came to reflect on their lives to renew their selves.
Rhett Burraston, for instance, stated “At the 34km mark, I was broken. I was crying out for my three kids. I burst into tears but, at that moment, I shed some guilt. I sung their song. I just spilled it out, instead of lingering and fighting it as I have in the past.”
Another member of this year’s squad, 26-year old Libby Cook-Black, Thursday Island-born, has no cartilage in her right knee after an ACL injury ended her football career. But she revealed she is not a quitter. “I suffered trauma as a child but whenever I got into a bad place footy was always my outlet. Now I have this.” She added.
Ethan Mulholland, on the other hand, had no plans on quitting, either. This time three years ago, he was in a free-fall of drugs and alcohol. “Using drugs and alcohol was going to be my life forever and I accepted that. I was too scared to end my own life so I was hoping the alcohol would.” Yet, the IMP gave him hope. Now he is a worker for the rehabilitation centre he was admitted before.
After 2 am on Sunday, the first of the runners, 29-year old Peter Miller-Koncz, crossed the finish line at Simpson’s Gap with one of his four sons Jaikye; with 4 hours and 13 minutes.
By 6 am on Sunday, as the sun emerged from the horizon, the last of the runners, Maiquilla Brown, 30 years old, fell in the crossing line.
It was yet another success for de Castella. Starting the foundation with scepticism among the indigenous community, de Catella believed that only runners understood the life-changing power of running.
He deemed that he’s the person who understands you don’t wind down eras of systemic discrimination and dysfunction with the stroke of a pen, or a social media campaign. Instead, he promoted genuine empathy and healthy living.
This, along with the IMP covering all costs including travel to and from camps, accommodation, education costs, equipment, uniform – personal allowances excluded – the program is certainly a blessing to the indigenous community.
He emphasized that “walking is good but it takes too long; that’s why we run. We’ve got to move this country forward, these young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders forward, and we’re in a hurry.”