Mills lauds indigenous marathon finishers

Robert De Castella's indigenous marathon project set out to find an Olympic champion and found its true value in addressing community problems.

Patty Mills worked hard his entire life to make it in the NBA.

So when he heard of 10 indigenous kids running Sunday's New York marathon - 42kms after just six months of training - he was in awe of their achievement and keen to reinforce the message of rewards from perseverance.

"I can't believe you guys just ran a marathon. That's absolutely incredible," indigenous star Mills told the travelling party after his San Antonio Spurs' 94-84 NBA win over the Knicks in New York this week.

"Australia's so proud of you."

The Marathon Project is the brainchild of former Australian world champion Robert de Castella, who first helped four Northern Territory men complete the run in 2010.

Five years later the total group number had risen to 10, including Sydney resident John Leha, who weighed 170 kilograms when brother and former rugby league junior Tohi suddenly died of cancer in 2013.

Five indigenous mothers also completed the mammoth task.

Initially, de Castella went out in search of an indigenous Olympic champion, but he soon realised he found much more.

When Leha strode through Central Park's finish line last Sunday, he did so at 130 kilograms.

"After the death of his brother, he looked around at his family and they were all struggling," de Castella told AAP.

"He said, 'I'm going to lose my whole family because of this lifestyle. So he started training and exercising and said he wanted to be part of a change."

All 10 runners qualified for the project after finishing a Certificate III in Fitness, recreational coaching certificates with Athletics Australia, and a sports first aid CPR course in preparation.

But De Castella, who won marathon gold in the 1982 Commonwealth Games in Brisbane, said they had also walked away as community changers.

"What we've now focused on is something more important, which is addressing the issues that we in Australia face with our indigenous people - all of the chronic disease, the social dysfunction in terms of drugs, alcohol, violence, incarcerations... all those things," he said.

"But we do it by celebrating indigenous achievement and resilience, and we do that by picking one of the hardest things that you can do: running a marathon here in New York, which is the biggest and one of the hardest marathons in the world."

Mills, who said he'd never run a marathon in his life, had long kept an eye on De Castella's work in the indigenous community and was eager to provide some words of encouragement.

De Castella said the input from just the second indigenous player in the NBA completed the trip of a lifetime for some of the kids.

For Timber Creek's Dwayne Jones and Arnham Land's Chris Guyula - both Spurs fans - it was also a childhood dream come true.

"For me, where I am now and what I've accomplished, it's important for me to show them support to make sure they keep continuing whatever dreams they aspire to," Mills said.

Source: AAP