Personal trainer, Georgia Gleeson is hoping to take her mob from Queanbeyan Park, NSW all the way to the Hawaiian Islands.
It takes a special kind of person to get a considerable number of every day citizens up at the crack of dawn to go running - particularly in the minus four degree mornings of Canberra and its surrounding regions. But somehow Georgia Gleeson, a Kuku Yalanji woman, has the guts. Her dedication to keeping her community fit and active has seen a significant number of local Indigenous people transform into marathon runners.
The Queanbeyan Deadly Runners was founded by Gleeson in 2013. After battling with mental health issues, the mother-of-four undertook up long-distance running as a means of remedy. Gleeson soon found herself the protégé of marathon legend, Robert de Castella and 12 months later, competed the New York Marathon in just under four hours.
Gleeson is now giving more Indigenous people the opportunity to travel and achieve something remarkable. Her not-for-profit running group is currently fundraising online and in the community, so at least 20 runners can participate in the Maui Marathon come September this year, in Hawaii.
Felicity Corbin, a Dunghutti woman, is one of the athletic hopefuls who has been undertaking a rigorous training schedule since she joined the Queanbeyan Deadly Runners in February this year.
“I guess I’m the type of person who if I set a goal, I’ll set it big," Corbin told NITV.
"I’ve recently lost three very important people in my life; my Uncle and both Grandparents. So for me to go to Hawaii, it’s about maintaining that strong legacy of what they, my family, created inside of me.”
Corbin says that the running group meets three times per week (with one extra training session for those hoping to conquer the miles in Maui) covering a variety of different ‘runs’ including, speed sessions, long distance running, ‘recovery’ running and general fitness training. Currently, this is all being done in Canberra’s extremely cold - and recently, very wet - early mornings.
“It’s been raining a lot here and I didn’t do my early morning Sunday run last weekend. It started to get dark, and I was feeling less and less motivated,” Corbin says. “But then I saw a photo of me with my grandmother who passed away 12 months ago on Friday. She spent the last years of her life living with dementia and Alzheimer’s. And taking on the strength of living with that medical history and what my family has encountered, and just holding my elders and grandmothers with me, made me go out and run for 70 minutes and it feels good.”
Queanbeyan Deadly Runners is for Indigenous participants, but the group itself is significantly diverse. For an activity that’s traditionally a solo venture, Gleeson’s runners have transformed marathon running into a team sport, which is a big factor in its success.
“The diversity of the group is amazing. It’s people of all different ages; aunties, uncles and people of all different sizes and fitness levels,” Corbin says.
“We’re all there for each other and it’s about trying to be better, not how fast you are. We’re about setting a healthy and positive example for our families and our community."
"Some mornings are harder than others, but knowing that you’ve got that network of support means that I can just send one of my sisters a message saying that I don’t have the energy, and then I’ll get an uplifting reply and that can be just what you need.”
“It’s good camaraderie. It teaches us about ourselves and how strong we can be when we work together.”
Like other Deadly Runner incentives across Australia, there’s more to the QDR than getting fit. The commitment from members leads the group into new and exciting territory. After cycles of trekking the Ngunnawal country and attending the odd marathon event interstate, the Queanbeyan Deadly Runners thought, “what’s the next big step?”, and gave their beginner graduates a new international goal to work - and run - toward.
“I know of one person in particular, who this is not only her first trip overseas, but this will be her first marathon,” says Corbin. “Currently I’m only doing the half-marathon… I’ve been encouraged to take on the whole thing… We’ll see. I only started in February, so I don’t want to be too ambitious!”