NEW YORK (AP) — A dozen young Australian runners from indigenous tribes once targeted for genocide have a different marathon goal: “The finish line is just a start for us.”
So says Robert de Castella, a onetime top marathoner who trained them for Sunday’s New York City Marathon.
Running a marathon for their first time, they’ll need their new physical and mental prowess to return home and tackle the life-threatening problems of their Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, he says. Generations of abuse at the hands of European colonizers have left many indigenous Australians with a 20-year life expectancy gap due to addictions, mental health illnesses and other diseases, says de Castella.
The Australians are among a field of about 20,000 foreigners from more than 120 nations running the 2016 race.
They include last year’s winners, Mary Keitany and Stanley Biwott, both from Kenya. Keitany, along with Ghirmay Ghebreslassie, of Eritrea, won this year’s race.
The 12 Australian runners are raising funds for their Indigenous Marathon Foundation that de Castella started about six years ago. He brings a new team to New York each year, with each member competing to enter the program.
“I live in a place where poor health killing people is the norm,” says Zideon Fielding, 22, a health worker from a community of 300 in the Australian desert. “I thought if I tried the marathon approach, I could create change, with drive and persistence.
Meghan Highsold, an Aboriginal attorney, says she’s the daughter of a man who was forcibly adopted by a white family to wipe out his heritage.
“I want to use my marathon skills to help people make changes, to manage mental health in a good way,” says the 30-year-old. “It’s all about now.