This year’s Indigenous Marathon Project will be run as a virtual program to “keep encouraging young Indigenous leaders to step up in their community and spread the positive message of healthy living,” says IMP head coach and graduate, Adrian Dodson-Shaw.

Participation in the New York City Marathon is highly unlikely for this year’s Indigenous Marathon Project (IMP) squad due to the COVID-19 pandemic; however, the project’s positive message of healthy living is set to continue.

The flagship program of the Indigenous Marathon Foundation (IMF) is now in its eleventh year, but this year it comes with a difference – an intense virtual program which will include physical training, completing timed running events, and education such as a Certificate IV in Business through AFL Sports Ready.

And it also comes with an added bonus – the ability to include more participants.

IMF founder and director, Rob de Castella: “The finish line of the marathon is just the start for our graduates. It’s what they do when they come home after IMP that really matters.”

IMF founder and director is Canberra sporting legend, Rob de Castella. He said that given they will not have all the travel and camps associated with the IMP program this year, “it gives us an opportunity to provide that experience to a few more participants”.

Instead of the usual 12 participants, this year 16 young Indigenous men and women representing most states and territories, except the ACT and Tasmania, have been selected to participate.

“Each year, we get more and more applicants, and we see our footprint grow across the country,” Mr de Castella said. “It’s a life-changing experience, not just for the selected few who get to participate, but for their families, friends and communities.”

This year, the IMP received nearly 200 applicants, most of whom were still eager to participate with the restrictions and the new format, which humbled de Castella.

He said participants told him they were not doing the IMP to run the New York Marathon but because they “want to be part of the IMP program and use that as a platform to drive change”.

“It’s always exciting to meet a new squad and to listen to what they’d like to achieve once they graduate,” Mr de Castella said. “The finish line of the marathon is just the start for our graduates. It’s what they do when they come home after IMP that really matters.”

In previous years, the IMP squads completed the IMF Reconciliation Run in Canberra in May, the Gold Coast Half Marathon in July, the City2Surf in Sydney in August, and a 30km time trial in Alice Springs in September, before reaching the goal of the TCS New York City Marathon in November. Normally they would also come together at major camps every six weeks; however, this year catchups will be held over Zoom.

IMP head coach and graduate, Adrian Dodson-Shaw, said this year would prove the hardest yet for the new squad, a view shared by Mr de Castella.

“The IMP program is designed to be tough. It’s only through challenges that we can see how resilient and strong we really are,” Mr de Castella said. He added that this year provides additional opportunity “to showcase Indigenous resilience and determination in the face of really testing circumstances”.

While Mr Dodson-Shaw is still hopeful the squad will be able to run a major domestic or international marathon by the end of the year, they are also prepared to do this virtually.

These Indigenous Marathon Project runners were among more than 50,000 people who took part in the 2019 New York City Marathon.This year’s IMP cohort will not be able to follow in their footsteps due to COVID-19.

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