Long shot pays off

Sunday Tasmanian - Tassie Living - - Television - CLAIRE HAR­VEY

TAKE four young in­dige­nous men from re­mote com­mu­ni­ties. Get them to speak on cam­era for the first time. Ask them to re­veal their most pri­vate mo­ments, their fam­ily se­crets, their emo­tions.

In­tro­duce them to one of Aus­tralia’s sport­ing he­roes. Put them on a plane for the first time. Push them through ex­tra­or­di­nary phys­i­cal and men­tal pain for a year. Then fly them to New York and ask them to run a marathon.

When New- Zealand- born doc­u­men­tary maker Matt Long came up with the idea to film the jour­ney of four young Abo­rig­i­nal run­ners from the Out­back to the New York Marathon, he knew it would be a dif­fi­cult task.

He didn’t have any ath­letes, any money or a coach. But Long had one very im­por­tant name: Robert de Castella. Out of the blue, he ap­proached the marathon cham­pion and former di­rec­tor of the Aus­tralian In­sti­tute of Sport to ask if he would be in­ter­ested in be­ing part of the project.

‘‘ Once we had the idea, all ar­rows pointed to Rob de Castella,’’ Long says on the eve of the tele­vi­sion de­but of his doc­u­men­tary, Run­ning To Amer­ica.

‘‘ If Deeks hadn’t come on board, the whole thing would have died. But I drove down to Can­berra and met him, and he im­me­di­ately said: ‘ Yep, I’m in’.’’

The doc­u­men­tary fol­lows de Castella’s quest: first, find­ing the run­ners from farflung com­mu­ni­ties, and then the slow re­al­i­sa­tion of the task’s mag­ni­tude.

For Long and de Castella, it was a jour­ney into the heat of in­dige­nous cul­ture. The run­ners, Char­lie Maher, Juan Dar­win, Caleb Hart and Joseph Davies, kept us­ing the phrase ‘‘ shame job’’ to de­scribe some­thing par­tic­u­larly Abo­rig­i­nal – the cul­tural and so­cial dif­fi­culty of set­ting one­self apart from fam­ily and com­mu­nity.

‘‘ All the boys re­ferred to it as a shame job, which just means do­ing any­thing dif­fer­ent to any­one else.

‘‘ If you’re a guy in jog­ging shoes run­ning around the com­mu­nity in the boil­ing heat . . . you re­ally stand out,’’ Long says.

‘‘ These guys did over­come that, they over­came that shame- job fac­tor and they re­alised that ac­tu­ally, if they wanted to achieve, they were go­ing to have to suf­fer a bit of shame job, stand­ing out from ev­ery­one. ‘‘ It was a real eye- opener into the psy­che of these young guys.’’

The boys all com­pleted the marathon, with times rang­ing from 3: 32 to 5: 01, and all are still run­ning to­day.

The Marathon Project has also be­come de Castella’s pas­sion. Ear­lier this month, he took a fur­ther 20 in­dige­nous run­ners to New York and again, they all com­pleted the race.

De Castella now has a big­ger goal: to find an in­dige­nous run­ner tal­ented enough to com­pete in the Olympic marathon in Rio de Janeiro in 2016. Run­ning To Amer­ica, ABC1, Thurs­day, 8.30pm

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