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Women dominate the 2021 Indigenous Marathon Project Squad selection

14 April 2021

After three months of covering the length and breadth of Australia conducting a rigorous try-out process, The Indigenous Marathon Foundation (IMF) has selected its 2021 Indigenous Marathon Project (IMP) squad who will take-on the challenge of running their first marathon within the next six months.

“It has certainly not been easy. With so many quality applicants, all with a compelling reason why they want to participate, and all super deserving to take their spot, we had to make some very tough decisions” says Damian Tuck, IMP Head Coach.

The try-out tour has taken Damian and other IMF support staff to most Capital Cities as well as regional and remote locations as far afield as Karratha, Galiwin’ku and Alice Springs. He says a great diversity of applicants across different ages (between 18-30) and backgrounds have put their hands up for consideration and believes that the dynamics of the final squad will provide a great environment for interaction and shared growth experiences.

Each year Rob de Castella’s Indigenous Marathon Foundation selects and mentors a squad of young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men and women to participate in Australia’s most demanding and difficult programs (the IMP), requiring them to go from little or no running to finishing a full marathon in just six-months, all under the guidance of the Head Coach and Rob de Castella.

Up until last year, all IMP runners had trained for the New York City Marathon, however due to COVID-19 restrictions there was no New York for them in 2020, nor will the 2021 squad have New York in their sights. Instead, they will again run their marathon in the desert outside of Alice Springs, at midnight, under a full moon on Arrente country. The historic (COVID) 2020 Alice Springs Marathon marked the 10-year existence of the project and holds its own significance to the rich IMP history.

“The fact that we had a higher number of applicants than other years for 2021, goes to show that the IMP is far greater than merely chasing the bright lights of New York. These men and women are committed to making an impact in their communities and that wherever they cross the finish line – whether New York or on country, the desire to change the trajectory of their lives and to inspire others to do the same, is what it is all about”, IMF Founder and Director Rob de Castella says.

This year the squad consists of eight women and six men other than previous years when it was an equal spread of six and six. Says Tuck: “With such a strong contingent of ladies, we were compelled to shake things up a bit. Knowing what each female squad member could potentially contribute to their communities in future, we reveled in the opportunity to allow an extra two female participants.”

It is no wonder the selection of the female squad members caused Tuck sleepless nights. Firstly, the number of female applicants outweighed that of their male counterparts.

“The diversity among this group was just incredible. We did not want to rob any of the applicants, nor their communities from the difference that they could make through the IMP”, comments Tuck.

From a previously morbidly obese recovering smoker, to three applicants that share thirteen (13) previous applications between them, there is no doubt that these ladies mean business. Throw in a junior doctor and a Masters in Public Health student, the women’s team is certainly a force to be reckoned with.

For Cairns Indigenous Youth Leader Rachel Dean and successful IMP applicant, the IMP will be a platform to break the cycle of intergenerational trauma. She will use her running to address mental health issues and hopes to be a positive role model to others. “I have been training with 2013 IMP Grad Colin Sampton who has put me through my run paces. I am so thrilled that I can now officially become part of the IMP Family” she remarked upon receiving the good news.

Beyond the marathon per se, the Project focuses on education, community and social change and is regarded as one of the country’s most successful Indigenous leadership and health promotion programs. Supported by the Commonwealth Department of Health, the program uses running to

change lives and create inspirational Indigenous leaders throughout the country.

Apart from the personalised run training that each squad member will undertake under the watchful eye of their Head Coach and Mr de Castella himself, they will also complete a Certificate IV in Indigenous Leadership, as well as Aboriginal Mental Health and Level 1 Recreational Run Coach accreditation.

“We also have a very exciting announcement which is still under wraps. Something we believe will place our graduate program on the next level in terms of Indigenous Leadership and impact,” de Castella says.

But first things first. Being selected as an IMP squad member does not automatically guarantee a spot at the October Midnight Marathon starting line. This place is earned through meeting all training and education requirements along the 6-month journey. Needless to say, these young men and women have a very busy training schedule ahead of them, with certain milestone events set in their calendar leading up to the Alice Springs Midnight Marathon on October 23rd.

These dates include:

  • 9 May 2021: Mother’s Day Classic – 10km Test Run, around Lake Burley Griffin in Canberra
  • 3 July 2021: Gold Coast Running Festival – 21km Half Marathon
  • 8 August 2021: City2Surf – 14km Event, Sydney
  • 12 September 2021: 30km Test Run, location tbc

Each run event coincides with a 5-day workshop during which squad members undertake the education aspects of the program and also give them the opportunity to come together as a group to motivate one another and share their triumphs and challenges in a supportive, non-judgmental environment.

At the end of the program, the graduates will go back into their communities and start their own initiatives to promote health and resilience in their own way. To date 109 IMP Graduates have successfully completed the program since its establishment in 2010.

The 2021 IMP squad are:

Women’s Squad

  1. Cecilia Johns – Katherine, NT
  2. Joyrah Newman – Bamaga, Qld (res. Canberra, ACT)
  3. Tasma Rudeforth – Adelaide, SA
  4. Rachel Dean – Melbourne, Vic (res. Cairns, QLD)
  5. Sherice Ansell – Alice Springs, NT
  6. Bonnie Smith-Robins – Melbourne , Vic (res. Bourke, NSW)
  7. Jye Roe Banks – Darwin, NT
  8. Hope Davison – Canberra, ACT

Men’s Squad

  1. Waynead Wolmby – Aurukun, QLD
  2. Matthew Axten – Alice Springs, NT
  3. Tristan Nelliman -Adams – Murray, Hammond Islands QLD, (res. Townsville, QLD)
  4. Clinton Bennell – Adelaide, SA
  5. Chris Alchin – Darwin, NT (res. Galiwin’ku, NT)
  6. Derrick Cusack – Mt Isa, QLD

“I want to show young women from Katherine that they don’t have to give up on their health and their lives. With the help of IMP, and with me running this marathon, we can change this”, says Cecilia Johns, a 2021 IMP squad member.