Rob de Castella is looking for indigenous Australians prepared to run for change

INDIGENOUS MARATHON PROJECT: Long-distance running changed Aaron West's life. Photo: James Hall.
INDIGENOUS MARATHON PROJECT: Long-distance running changed Aaron West's life. Photo: James Hall.

Former world champion marathon runner Rob de Castella is on the hunt for Indigenous Marathon Project’s next class who want to use running as a channel to develop into leaders and bring change to their communities.

The breadth of Australia and the nuances of each outlying communities makes the communication to and between indigenous groups challenging.

The IMP focuses on training aboriginal youths between the ages of 18 and 30 to complete a marathon in six months while also receiving formal coaching education.

Last year more than 180 people applied for the 12 positions and Mr de Castella said the project is about more than simply running.

Preparing for the marathon is used to develop discipline and create an avenue to reach out to fellow community members.

“We're not really looking for runners, we're looking for people who want to drive change, who want to be leaders and mentors in the communities and their families,” Mr de Castella said.

Completing a marathon was a significant hurdle and Mr de Castella said the entrants need to be dedicated to their communities to draw upon inspiration to achieve such a daunting task.

"The marathon is one of the hardest things you can do and running a marathon in six months is incredible, doing it from little communities and doing it from no running background is a huge challenge,” he said.

"Their motivation, their purpose, and their reason for doing it has got to be very strong so we want to hear about what they will do when they hit the wall at 30 kilometers and they still have 12 kilometers to go, we want to hear what it is that is going to keep them going.”

Before Mr de Castella founded the project seven years ago long-distance running in indigenous people was almost non-existent.

“It's incredible, it has really captivated the community and we've gone from having no culture or no history of indigenous men and women participating in fun runs and running events to now having communities right across Australia who have got their own running programs and hold their own fun runs,” Mr de Castella said.

“We're starting to see an incredible culture of distance running developing which is great to see.”

The project’s graduates includes young men and women from far-reaching communities from Kakadu, the Kimberley, Galiwinku, Dubbo and the Arnhem Land.

Queanbeyan IMP graduate Aaron West, 31, completed the project in 2015 and he said it changed his life.

Mr West was inspired to start running by another former Queanbeyan graduate, Georgia Gleeson, and went from being a non-runner to completing a marathon and regularly entering long distance races.

He now works at the Aboriginal Support Centre at the Canberra Institute of Technology as well as coaching fellow runners.

But it is the impact running has had on Mr West’s private life is what he said was most important.

"I struggled a lot with my mental health before and I didn't have any tools apart from medication to help me out and I find that running is a really important tool to maintain my mental health,” he said.