Land Rights News Central Australia: Land Rights News (September 2010)
The squad of four runners aged between 18 and 27 from Maningrida, Kununurra and Alice Springs are receiving training from former world and Commonwealth champion and world record holder in the marathon Rob de Castella and marathon coach John Bell as part of The Marathon Project.
Their preparation has included an intensive 10 day training workshop in Canberra at the Australian Institute of Sport, a certificate three course in Indigenous health, fitness and community recreation, a four day training and education course in Darwin and competing in a half marathon in East Timor.
The Federal Government has contributed more than $187,000 to the project and the Minister for Indigenous Health in the Labor Government Warren Snowdon said at the time it was hoped more Aboriginal youth will be attracted to endurance sports.
“Giving talented youngsters the chance to run in world-class marathons will not only raise the profile of endurance sports in Indigenous communities but it will also provide worthy role models to encourage others in those communities to pursue healthy lifestyles,” Mr Snowdon said.
One of the athletes, Charlie Maher junior, 27, has been mixing his marathon training with his commitments for the Northern Territory Thunder football team that plays in the Queensland Australian Football League.
Maher said the two commitments mean a gruelling schedule, but he’s been coping so far.
“It helps with my fitness, just gets me a bit fatigued towards the end of the week,” he said. “It’s not too bad, just got to get through it.”
Maher’s preparation for the New York Marathon, which attracts 40,000 runners and two million spectators lining the streets it follows, has included the half marathon in East Timor’s capital Dili.
“It was good,” he said, “We all enjoyed it and got a bit of a taste of going overseas and preparing us for New York. It’s going to be a great experience for us all.”
Maher said de Castella has been keeping a close watch on the group.
“He’s very helpful, got a lot of knowledge about running,” Maher said. “We’re learning from the best, which is good. He’s pretty down to earth but when we get off track he lets us know.”
The project is an initiative of de Castella’s SmartStart for Kids! organisation, a not-for-profit body. De Castella said he was initially invited to get involved for a documentary that proposed following a team of young Aboriginal runners as they trained for the New York Marathon.
“A lot of my interest is not just a one off documentary,” de Castella said. “but to build an interest in running as a new sport for Indigenous Australians.
“With the great domination of the African athletes, I saw a lot of similarities.
“Running is one of the most simple and natural things we humans can do. I think Australia’s Indigenous men and women have a real natural ability, probably more than myself,” he said.
De Castella said he hopes the program will lead to an Indigenous runner representing Australia at the 2016 Olympics. He’s confident the four involved in this campaign to run in New York will inspire others to follow.
The other three runners, apart from Maher, are Juan Darwin, 21, from Maningrida, Joseph Davies, 18, from Kununurra and Caleb Hart, 18, from Alice Springs.
“I’m just really surprised how well they’re doing,” he said. “I want them to feel when they cross the finish line they’ve really achieved something for themselves.
“I’d love Charlie and the other guys to cross the finish line and to finish under three hours would be absolutely wonderful and maybe next time to say I could run two hours 30.
De Castella said Maher and the other three runners have a great chance to inspire other young men and women.
“He’s a remarkable, an absolutely remarkable young man,” de Castella said, “The others are too but Charlie’s a little bit older. He’s got a wonderful opportunity to inspire some other young people.”
Maher said he’s aware of the opportunity to write some history and believes there is potential among Australia’s Aboriginal population for a world class marathoner to emerge.
“I think down the track there is potential,” he said. “We’re the pioneers. If the four of us can get through this marathon, we just hope it will open others’ eyes to it.”