The newest members of the Indigenous Marathon Project - are gearing up for a 6-month training and self-development stint in isolation, despite the future of running events looking uncertain for them.
Each year, 12 runners are selected to participate in the Indigenous Marathon Project's (IMP) 6-month training and self-development program - in an attempt to bring about positive change to their communities when they complete their end goal of a 42 kilometre New York Marathon.
Robert De Castella, founder and director of the IMP, told NITV's The Point, his talent scout had already travelled across the country and met “nearly 200 applicants” before the Coronavirus pandemic.
“He’d already done interviews and done tryouts for those applicants,” said Mr De Castella.
“It would’ve been I think, sort of easy for us to say, ‘oh look, it’s all too hard, we can’t get the guys in for training camps, there's a good chance the New York City Marathon won’t go ahead this year in November.’”
Mr De Castella, a former world champion marathon runner himself, said after hearing from their talent scout, pulling the plug on this year’s squad wasn’t an option.
“We’re not going to be able to bring people in for face-to-face training camps, we’re not going to be able to put them on big running events like the City-To-Surf in Sydney.”
This year, operations in the squad will be run differently, with the first few months being run virtually, or until border restrictions are lifted to allow runners to meet face-to-face for training camps.
“This pandemic is not going to stop IMP, this pandemic is not going to stop these young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men and women from stepping up and getting out there to represent their families and communities.”
Already, squad members have taken the initiative to start running in isolation, which they say has been helping keep them fit mentally, just as much as it does physically.
One of those squad members is Peter Miller-Koncz, a proud Wirangu, Kokatha, Mirning and Ngarrindjeri father of four, who uses running as a way to stay “grounded” when he goes away as a fly-in-fly-out worker.
”Having a long day at work, it's good to get that run in, you know, that motivation too, good to keep that going and yeah it's good for your mental health as well, but yeah it is hard being away from my family, especially my children,” Peter told NITV's The Point.
Peter said he’s tried out twice for the squad, being unsuccessful last year.
“I tried out in 2019 last year and unfortunately I was unsuccessful in my selection,” he said.
“I came back to give it another shot this year, I wasn’t gonna give up that easy.
“That positive attitude and the right choices that we make as role models will have that effect through the community…not only on the young generation but you know, middle age, old, you see when positive things take that effect on the community.”
Also joining the squad on her second attempt at selection, is Samara Fernandez-Brown, a proud Walpiri woman from Yuendumu in the Northern Territory.
Samara told NITV's The Point that joining the IMP to run a marathon was about having a “big drive” for positive change in her home community.
“I suppose with anything I do as an individual, it will always have a big drive for my community,” said Samara.
“It’s just being that positive role model, and being able to influence other people to look at alternative ways of living
“Running in general could have such a huge impact on anyone’s life...with the endorphins pumping already you’re gonna feel a bit more euphoric and happy within yourself.
”I’m really passionate about mental health and just like that clarity you get when you’re running, especially if you’re doing it for the right reasons with the right perspective.”
So far, there have been 96 IMP graduates from around the country, who Mr De Castella said have become “strong leaders and advocates” in their communities.
- For more on this story, watch NITV's flagship current affairs program The Point tonight (Wednesday),Free To Air on Channel 34 at 8.30pm.