In­dige­nous Aus­tralians hope marathon stirs change at home

Malta Independent - - SPORT -

A dozen young Aus­tralian run­ners from in­dige­nous tribes once tar­geted for geno­cide had a dif­fer­ent marathon goal: “The fin­ish line is just a start for us.”

So said Robert de Castella, a one­time top marathoner who trained them for Sun­day’s New York City Marathon.

Run­ning a marathon for their first time, the run­ners will need their new phys­i­cal and men­tal prow­ess to re­turn home and tackle the life-threat­en­ing prob­lems of their Abo­rig­i­nal and Tor­res Strait Is­lan­der peo­ples, he said. Gen­er­a­tions of abuse at the hands of Euro­pean colonis­ers have left many in­dige­nous Aus­tralians with a 20-year life ex­pectancy gap due to ad­dic­tions, men­tal health ill­nesses and other dis­eases, plus height­ened sui­cide and in­car­cer­a­tion rates, said de Castella.

The 12 Aus­tralians - rep­re­sent­ing their coun­try’s in­dige­nous pop­u­la­tion of al­most 1 mil­lion, or 3 per cent - were rais­ing funds for the In­dige­nous Marathon Foun­da­tion that de Castella started about six years ago.

“When I saw first­hand what was hap­pen­ing, I was ashamed of our coun­try - and I also saw the op­por­tu­nity to use the power of run­ning,” de Castella said.

The Aus­tralians were among a field of about 20,000 for­eign­ers from more than 120 na­tions run­ning the 2016 race dom­i­nated by for­eign win­ners. Mary Keitany, of Kenya, and Ghir­may Ghebreslassie, of Eritrea, won this year’s race.

One proud French­man, who had run the Paris race in the past, con­ceded that he pre­ferred New York.

“New York is more mag­i­cal,” said Vin­cent Dog­ni­aux. “You feel more sup­port from the crowd here. It’s big­ger, live­lier and more emo­tional.”

Sey­dou Kane, of Niger, said he was “so proud” to be rep­re­sent­ing his west African coun­try. He said he didn’t think twice about run­ning his first New York marathon in­stead of an­other big ur­ban one.

“Of course, c’mon! Iconic, this is the city that never sleeps,” he said. “The crowd, the stamina one of the runs that’s a must-do and that’s it.”

As the first three of de Castella’s fierce run­ners wrapped up Sun­day’s race, he con­cluded: “The harder some­thing is, the bet­ter, be­cause you need to have a pur­pose to do in­cred­i­ble things.”

De Castella brings a new team to New York each year, af­ter each mem­ber com­petes for a slot.

“I live in a place where poor health killing peo­ple is the norm,” says Zideon Field­ing, 22, a health worker from a com­mu­nity of 300 in the Aus­tralian desert. “I thought if I tried the marathon ap­proach, I could cre­ate change, with drive and per­sis­tence.

Me­gan High­fold, an Abo­rig­i­nal at­tor­ney, said she’s the daugh­ter of a man who was forcibly adopted by a white fam­ily to wipe out his her­itage.

“I want to use my marathon skills to help peo­ple make changes, to man­age men­tal health in a good way,” she said. “It’s all about now.”

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