home Interview, Running A marathon of change: 11 years on from a history-making run

A marathon of change: 11 years on from a history-making run

In 2011, Bianca Graham and Nadine Hunt ran the New York City Marathon with the Indigenous Marathon Project. They share the enduring legacy of their history-making run with Lauren McIntosh.

Bianca Graham (left) and Nadine Hunt ran the New York City Marathon after signing up for the Indigenous Marathon Project. Image: Supplied.

New York. It is one of the biggest cities in the world, a place where dreams are made. It’s also home to the renowned New York City Marathon, one of the world’s most famous long distance races. 

Eleven years ago, on Sunday the 6th of November 2011, it is where the serendipitous dream Bianca Graham and Nadine Hunt had—of becoming the first Indigenous Australian women to cross the New York Marathon finish line—became reality.

Bianca and Nadine crossed the finish line together in 3 hours, 40 minutes and 44 seconds to make history. They finished a joint third out of eleven Indigenous Marathon Project (IMP) squad members.

“We started off together but there was no plan, it just happened,” says Bianca of their joint crossing.

“It wasn’t until the very end [when] we could see the flags and were like we’ve done it. And we grabbed each other’s hand and just ran across the finish line.”

In reflecting on their run, Nadine says “I remember running past so many of the IMP boys and checking they’re okay, but we’d keep going.

“When we finished, we were laughing and crying and crying.”

Ahead of the marathon there had been a lot of excitement around the event, as Bianca and Nadine, along with Bridgette Williams and Sam Shepherd, were set to be the first Indigenous Australian women to run the NYC Marathon. The involvement of the four women came about from their participation in the IMP.

Founded in 2010, IMP—now a part of the broader health promotion charity the Indigenous Marathon Foundation (IMF)—supports and trains a select squad of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples to run the New York City Marathon in just 6 months.

Bianca and Nadine had heard the stories of the inaugural IMP runners—all males from remote communities in central Australia— however as IMP was still in its infancy, each had their own hesitancy about signing up.

Bianca, a Torres Strait Islander woman, grew up on the mainland in Cape York Peninsula, in a town called Weipa. 

“I remember the flyer said, ‘Do you want to run a marathon this year?’ I always thought marathons [were] in the Olympics and that’s it, I didn’t know anyone could do it. And certainly not people from Weipa.

“I remember thinking, that’s not true, why send a flyer like that?”

After making history as the first two Indigenous Australian women to run the NYC Marathon through the IMP, Bianca and Nadine remain involved with the IMP, where they hope to inspire more Indigenous women to do what they did. Image: Supplied.

Nadine, a Iamalaig woman of the Kulkalgal Nation (Yam Island) and Kaantju, who grew up in more ‘urban’ Cairns questioned her right to participate.

“Here we are female fair skinned Indigenous Australians from a kind of regional urban area. Do we fit that mould of what Australia thinks Indigenous Australians should be? Also, like women haven’t done this before, can we even do this?”

While the title of being ‘the first’ and a trip to New York were tantalising reasons to participate, for both Bianca and Nadine, ultimately they applied to challenge themselves and set an example for others.

In a true actions speak louder than words, Bianca would “rather do the right thing and challenge myself, so others can see and hopefully do—not so much for the benefit of me.”

Bianca says that running a marathon skews your sense of what is hard. 

“You are so proud of yourself,” says Bianca, “and [you] learn you’ve got so much strength that you probably never truly appreciated nor knew you had.”

“It’s more than just running,” says Nadine, “it’s doing something different and showing my family and my community the endless possibilities there are if you just give it a go.

“[It was] really important that we [took that] seriously, because we’re the pillars for the future of IMP women.” 

“Women in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander family frameworks [are] the ones that are always there. They are reliable. They are determined.”

Nadine and Bianca crossed the finished line of the New York City Marathon together. Image: Supplied.

Fast forward to the present day and IMP has had more than 40 female graduates.

“It’s really cool, seeing all of the women… I reckon it’s taken me a good 10 years to realise how big of a deal it was”, says Nadine.

Today both Bianca and Nadine are still heavily involved with IMP, seeking to give back to the community the same way Rob de Castella—the IMF founder—has been doing “tirelessly for 12 years”.

“We don’t actually realise the influence”, says Nadine. “We have runners who have built their confidence so much they will never go back to a domestic violence relationship.

“There’s such a bigger picture. It’s about providing a really positive space for mob to come together and be healthy and be active. To challenge themselves.

“Because you have no idea what is going on behind the scenes and how you can influence someone by just being there and supporting them.

“You don’t have to run a marathon, you just have to show up.”

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