Four young Indigenous athletes from Australia will be running in the New York marathon as part of a project aimed to positively influence Indigenous communities.
Santilla Chingaipe as reported by Ronald Mani

SBS Radio
29 Oct 2010 - 12:31 PM  UPDATED 23 Aug 2013 - 4:48 PM

Four young Indigenous athletes from Australia will be running in the New York marathon as part of a project aimed to positively influence Indigenous communities.

It's one of the world's major marathon races, and this year's event will see more than 40 000 athletes from all over the world congregate in New York City on November 7.

Juan Darwin from Mangrida, Joseph Davies from Kununurra, Charlie Maher and Caleb Hart from Alice Springs are all geared and ready to run the race.

They are part of a project for Indigenous athletes set up by former Australian marathon champion, Rob de Castella, in collaboration with the Northern Territory Police.

Aims to encourage physical activity

The project aims to positively influence Indigenous communities by encouraging physical activity, general health and employment.

Marathon running is a sport mostly dominated by athletes from African nations, but Mr Castella hopes an Australian Indigenous runner will one day become a long distance champion.

"Nearly three years ago I was approached by a couple of film producers with an idea to film a documentary where we found or identified a group of indigenous runners and train them within a period of 6 to 12 months and take them over to see if was possible to get them to finish the New York marathon," Mr Castella said.

Never raced before

One of the athletes going to New York, 22-year old Juan Darwin, says he's looking forward to the challenge although he had never taken part in a race before participating in the Marathon Project.

"Normally I play footy and it feels different when I'm training to run," he said.

Superintendent Andy Warton from the Northern Territory Police has been Darwin's mentor for the past year, he will also be competing in the marathon.

He says although he initially got involved in the project to help identify young Indigenous runners, his involvement grew to a mentorship role.

"We put the word out through our various police in the communities and assisted them in finding some of the boys that are part of the project.

"The police involvement seemed to grow from one of initial recruiting through to one of mentorship."

Friendship grew strong

Superintendent Warton helped Darwin during training and they became close friends.

"Me and Andy were doing team work, pool sessions and stuff like that. Normally we'd go for runs at the running club. I'd be home and Andy would come and pick me up after work and we'd go for a run," Mr Warton told SBS.

In order to be prepared for the marathon, Darwin left his young son and wife in Manigrida and moved to the Northern Territory capital to train with Superintendent Warton.

Darwin says training has been his priority every day.

"I just wake up early and just run, run, like 40 minutes run, 50 minutes run, everyday".

Challenging road to New York

The road to New York hasn't been without challenges for Darwin, but Superintendent Warton says he's very determined and will do well in the race.

"Juan's had a lot to deal with along the way in terms of deaths in the extended family and injury, but he's come through with all of those challenges and I think he's going to perform outstandingly in New York whether he finishes or not."

Superintendent Warton isn't the only one proud of Darwin.

"They're really proud. My uncle's proud, my mum's proud, my Nanna's proud," Darwin says.

With his family and community behind him, Darwin hopes to at least finish the entire race.

Hopes to expand program

Former world champion runner, Rob de Castella, says there are no expectations for the four athletes to actually win, but he says he hopes to see the project reach other Indigenous communities in the country.

"Next year I'd like to be able to expand the program and develop a women's only squad, because there's alot of issues of aboriginal women training with the men."

Mentoring plans

Upon his return from New York, Darwin is planning to embark on another journey - becoming a mentor himself to other young Indigenous people.

There's one person he can't wait to mentor when he returns, his son who he hopes will one day follow in his footsteps.

"When he grows up, me and my son, we'll go for runs. And train. And I'll tell him stories."

To find more about the project go to their website.