When Australian running legend Rob de Castella has an idea, people listen.

His idea in 2009 to find Australian indigenous runners to beat the pants off the athletic-world-dominating African runners, took off as the Indigenous Marathon Project in 2010 when a squad of four indigenous men ran the New York City Marathon.
However the idea grew legs of its own and took another course that surprised Rob but delighted him so much he delved deeper than his original aim of beating the African runners, to take up the cause of healthy empowered indigenous communities across the country.

When Charlie Maher became the first indigenous Australian to finish the NYC Marathon in 2010, followed by his three team mates, he inspired his community and the nation.

Without realising it, those four inspirational indigenous men created a ripple that would swell into waves of change across the nation.
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Running has taken off in indigenous communities
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Charlie Maher, the first indigenous man to cross the finish line at the NYC Marathon

Rob identified a purpose much bigger, and more significant, than winning gold at the Olympics: Empowerment, resilience and courage became the foundations on which the IMP has grown.

Now in its seventh year, the IMP has graduated and mentored 53 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island men and women across the finish line of an international marathon, including New York, Tokyo and Boston

It has grown to include additional programs of:

  • Deadly Fun Run series
  • I-CAN (Indigenous Communities for Activity and Nutrition)
  • FrontRuners – an initiative established in 2015 providing personal and professional pathways and opportunities for IMP graduates

This growth led to an organisational restructure that saw the Indigenous Marathon Foundation created in 2015 as an umbrella organisation for all the programs. Running and encouraging health lifestyles underpin each program, teaching important lessons in discipline, commitment, resilience, determination and purpose to achieve goals.

Runners who finish a marathon, have pushed themselves past pre-conceived boundaries and emerge as beacons of inspiration with a sense of self-belief and pride, confident they can do anything.

Graduates who become FrontRunners become IMP family and take their sense of achievement and resilience back to their communities to create running groups, events and activities for everyone.

IMF Communication and Fundraising Manager, Kellie O’Sullivan, says running has transformed lives and communities and across Australia has reignited indigenous passion for running.

She highlighted the example of 2014 graduates from Thursday Island, Elsie Seriat and Harold Matthew, who have started a running revolution.

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Running is changing communities for the better in health, fitness, self-belief and community empowerment.

“The whole community now runs. Their inaugural Thursday Island Running Festival (TIRF) attracted approximately 300 people of all ages from TI and neighbouring islands, who either ran or volunteered,” Kellie said.

“It was an incredible event that highlighted firsthand the impact Harold and Elsie have had, and continue to have on TI.”

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A running revolution is happenning on Thursday Island.

It is a similar story in Galiwinku, a remote community on Elcho Island off the top of the Northern Territory.

Inspired by local graduates, Evelyna Dhamarrandji (2013), Rachel Baker (2014) and Jacinat Gurruwiwi (2015), a running festival has been held in the community since 2014.

The event attracted so much support and participation in its first year that it effectively shut down the community and it was declared a ‘public holiday’.

Travelling Fit director, Mari-Mar Walton, is excited by the charity partnership they began with IMF earlier this year.

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Everyone who participates in the running festival at Galiwinku is a winner

“We were very excited about the long-term opportunities and to finally be working with a charity who focuses on fitness and wellbeing within the Australian indigenous communities,” Mari-Mar said.

Travelling Fit is giving graduates the opportunity to represent TF as indigenous ambassadors, travelling with clients to different running events worldwide, telling their stories and teaching about indigenous culture.

IMF supporters travelling with TF will get exclusive value-add options including meeting and running with Rob de Castella, invitations to motivational talks at lunches and meeting the IMP squad and graduates.

TF also partners with the IMF in its fundraiser events by being able to guarantee race entry for fundraiser runners, and acts as a fundraising vehicle in support of the IMF and its projects.

“This was a natural fit for what we do and we found this a very exciting opportunity,” Mari-Mar said.

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Deadly Fun Run Championships – deadly fun for all.

Kellie said the IMF aims to showcase indigenous Australia to the rest of the world, to empower indigenous people to be leaders and to help change unhealthy habits to healthy lifestyles.

And Rob would probably agree that if it happens to lead to Australian indigenous runners dominating the world athletic scene, it’s a win, win, win.