recently discovered a documentary on indigenous Australians,
Running to America. It’s a remarkable story that
has grown into ongoing project supported by the American
government and it’s called the Marathon Project.
It’s an initiative that has changed the lives
of young Aboriginal men and women and has positively
impacted their communities, located in the most isolated
areas of the Australian outback.
to America (GoodOil, 2011) is a documentary about four
young men who often ran alone through the red, hard,
hot desert sands in the immense open spaces of Australia’s
back country, aiming for the wide asphalt avenues of
New York City. Now their story repeats itself each year
as a new batch of indigenous youth train to run the
youth chosen for the project come from lives steeped
in social and economic problems of alcohol, drug abuse,
dysfunctional family life and unemployment. They train
to do the seemingly impossible: running 26 miles with
48,000 others from all over the world.
was tired of the disproportionate amount of negative
indigenous stories in the media,” the documentary’s
filmmaker, New Zealander Matt Long, told me. “I
thought it time to balance it out by giving these people
a new and positive face.”
Long proposed the idea of training a select group of
Aboriginal young people in long distance running to
Australian world champion runner, Rob de Castella, although
it seemed an impossible dream.
of the hardest obstacles for these kids to overcome
was the diffidence in their own communities,”
Long said. “No one had ever done anything like
this before, and generally it’s unacceptable to
‘poke your head above the crowd,’ which
means engaging in anything that stands out.
Federal education Department has now picked up the film
to make it part of the curriculum of all state schools,
so what was done here will encourage many other young
people to have the courage to say: ‘It’s
okay for me to stand out… it’s cool!’”
Long had to overcome other obstacles to film the project.
“Getting funding was a nightmare, since no one
wanted to take the risk that these kids would actually
cross the finish line.” But believing that “the
journey of reaching the goal” was going to make
a difference in these young lives, he persevered. Creating
such an inspiring documentary has had far-reaching effects;
it has captured the hearts of many in Australia.
getting the kids to the training sessions from their
remote and inaccessible communities was near to impossible,”
explained De Castella.
the monsoons begin, these villages are completely cut
off. “Their concept of nutrition was very poor,
so, besides overcoming immense social problem, their
physiological needs had to be met in order to follow
the rigorous training program.
of these kids had never left their local community,
and no one had a passport; that would be totally unthinkable!
That’s why I am so passionate about what now has
become the Marathon project.
is one of the most accessible and simplest of all sports
to put in place. Besides the distance they run, it makes
them feel good about themselves and has significant
benefits in improving their total being.”
nine-month long journey with these young people was
an unforgettable experience for De Castella.
the challenges of discipline, the building of self-esteem
and introducing them to a beneficial lifestyle was a
real feat. The human, emotional and personal growth
that these kids have gone through was amazing.
to New York City in 2010 began as little ripples in
a pond that led to a tsunami! The tools they learned
have contributed to the health and social well-being
not only for themselves but also for their communities.”
part of their training they participated in a course
in indigenous health, which later on gave them employment
opportunities and assists them in improving the health
standards of their people.
had to keep wiping the tears from my eyes when I saw
those guys cross the finish line,” Long said.”
It was two years of work with a lot of doubts and trials
in between, but the goal was met, and wow it was moving!
When we showed the film in Alice Springs, home of two
of the boys, everyone cried and laughed. When the finish
line was crossed, the audience exploded in rousing applause.
It made it all worth it!” Throughout the outback,
the runners were welcomed home by hun dreds who turned
out to express what their own had accomplished.
many other young people aspire to overcome the obstacles
in order to go on to make a difference for themselves
and their people.
Marathon takes you way outside of your comfort zone
into a space where you grow and develop important life
skills,” Long said. “Those kids were transformed
by the belief that they could do so much more than they
had ever dreamed possible. It’s this sense of
self-worth and accomplishment that they bring back to
2011 four aboriginal women participated in the Marathon
Project for the first time, joining five young men and
overcoming injuries, cramps and exhaustion to reach
their goal. The project has now expanded to include
organized “community fun runs” for the aboriginal
communities throughout the country.
group of inmates in a youth detention center, where
80% of the population is aboriginal, saw the film and
was inspired to run too. Officials at the prison contacted
De Castella, who with his team set up a training program
October 2011, 33 of these young inmates ran a 26k marathon
on a 1.7k track inside the prison walls. It changed
the lives of these kids. They have moved from socially
dysfunctional behavior to feeling completely different
about themselves. We continue to work with these young
men, and one who has since been released wants to be
part of the project next year.”
does De Castella think of all that has come about since
the first race run in 2010? “This project has
captured people’s imagination.
response from indigenous and non-indigenous Australia
has been overwhelming. It’s wonderful to see the
recognition of the importance of indigenous culture
in Australia. Often we have not given enough value to
the gifts and the priorities of this people.”
V. Cass is based in Melbourne, Australia.
article was originally published in the Focolare Living
City Magazine, USA.)