Elsie Seriat didn’t even grasp the distance of a marathon when she signed up for the Indigenous Marathon Project. But that didn’t stop her from throwing herself into the deep end and applying for the program in 2014.

Growing up on Thursday Island, Elsie had always been a sporty person but had never been a fan of running.

“Running long distance was daunting, it was never my thing. In school, I would hide under the table when it came to running.”

However, she recognised the potential for positive change that she could influence in her community.

“The reason I wanted to be a part of this foundation was to be a better leader and help my community… I didn’t know what the length of a marathon was. But I realised this was something more than that, it was going to build leaders.”

Since then she has been an integral part of Thursday Island’s community, introducing her hometown to walking and running groups.

The Indigenous Marathon Foundation was founded in 2009 by former world champion runner Rob de Castella. It was established as a way of building resilience, achievement and leaders in the Indigenous community through the influence of running.

Each year the foundation selects a squad of Indigenous Australians to train for 6 months for the notorious New York Marathon. As well as training for the marathon, the squad must also complete a compulsory education module, which includes a Certificate IV in Sport & Recreation, Running Coach accreditation, and CPR First Aid.

But it’s not just about the race that counts, as Rob explains “it’s really what the graduates do when they come back from the marathon. They feel empowered and motivated to make change”.

Many of the graduates deal with personal challenges and barriers in their own life. Elsie herself is no stranger to these challenges and explains the biggest challenge is overcoming your own metal barriers. In a video, Scott Cox a single father of three who completed the marathon in 2017 spoke about crying with joy after crossing the finishing line, recognising all of his effort and hard work.

Rob notes “marathons are synonymous with struggle, you put everything into it, its physically and mentally draining. But it’s what you can take from the experience that counts”.

Back home, these experiences help the graduates build resilience and impart them with the skills to help face their own challenges. Graduates of the program become agents of change with the aim to address health and social issues in the Indigenous and Torres Strait communities.

Rob talks about the challenges facing Indigenous communities in Australia, and the frustrations that the narrative is always focused on the negative. “When you make the negative the norm, it becomes entrenched and very difficult to change”. This program shows the participants and their communities that everyone, no matter who you are, or what adversities you have overcome, can achieve anything they want to achieve.

Elsie now lives in Canberra and works for the Indigenous Marathon Foundation as a Frontrunners Manager.

 

Callida Indigenous Consulting is a proud sponsor of the Indigenous Marathon Foundation. Callida Indigenous Consulting and Callida Consulting are committed to helping Canberra and the wider community.

To find out more about how you can get involved or donate, visit the foundation’s website.

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