25 November 2021

From a casual jogger to completing a marathon in only six months

| Lottie Twyford
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Joyrah Newman

Joyrah Newman went from being a casual runner to completing a marathon in only six months. Photo: Indigenous Marathon Foundation.

Six months ago, Joyrah Newman took what seemed like a bit of a crazy leap and decided to sign up to participate in the Indigenous Marathon Foundation project.

Fast forward to now, she’s recovering after running her first-ever marathon around Canberra last weekend.

“Everything from my neck down hurts,” says Joyrah. “If you ask me exactly where it hurts, I couldn’t say because everything does.

“Actually, maybe my fingers are OK, they don’t hurt.

“My mind… I don’t know where that is at the moment. I’m exhausted.”

Initially, all 13 members of the 2021 Indigenous Marathon Foundation squad had hoped to complete the Alice Springs Marathon in October, however Joyrah and two other squad members were unable to travel due to border restrictions.

Instead, Verhonda (Bonnie) Smith from Bourke, NSW, and Canberra local Hope Davison joined Joyrah at the marathon start line in Phillip early on the morning of Sunday, 21 November, where they began a course that snaked from Phillip, along Adelaide Avenue, and around Lake Burley Griffin.

While Joyrah was initially disappointed at being unable to travel to Alice Springs to run with the whole Indigenous Marathon Foundation squad, she said it ended up as a blessing in disguise as she had longer to train.

“The most important thing was that no-one missed out,” she says.

Rob de Castella, Hope Davison, Verhonda (Bonnie) Smith, Joyrah Newman and Damian Tuck

Indigenous Marathon Foundation founder Rob de Castella with Hope Davison, Verhonda (Bonnie) Smith, Joyrah Newman and coach Damian Tuck. Photo: Indigenous Marathon Foundation.

Joyrah also says remaining on Ngunnawal Country meant she had a really strong connection to her ancestors.

“After our Welcome to Country ceremony on Saturday, we were all ready for it by Sunday,” she says.

During the run, Joyrah says she felt no pain or tiredness, or at least she didn’t notice them.

“We felt like celebrities because so many people came out to support us,” she says.

Originally from Bamaga in Far North Queensland, Joyrah is now a Treasury analyst who lives in Canberra.

Completing the run has been a bit like coming full circle for her as she initially started running to cope with her grief when her nephew committed suicide, plus the difficulties of being so far away from family.

Now that she has completed her first marathon, Joyrah hasn’t ruled out competing in another one.

Although she might need a bit of time to recover first.

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Indigenous Marathon Foundation founder and director, and former marathon world champion, Rob de Castella said it is the case every year that the marathon finish line is just the start line for what is next.

“It’s now up to them to continue to be leaders, promote healthy lifestyles and lead by example by continuing to make change within their families and communities,” he said.

“They know what it takes to put everything on the line, to push through adversity and to get the job done. They proved that to themselves on the weekend. It’s not until you are tested that you know your true self.”

Mr de Castella noted this year has been one of the toughest in the 12 years the Indigenous Marathon Foundation project has been running, given the impact of COVID-19 lockdowns and border closures.

However, he said participants have risen to the challenge.

The marathon is the final step in the six-month Indigenous Marathon Foundation program, which consists of a personal commitment to health and nutrition as well as undertaking a Certificate IV in Indigenous Leadership and Health Promotion, and participating in first-aid, media and running coaching training.

Along the way, participants undertook four major runs, which coincided with a five-day intensive workshop where the educational aspects of the program were undertaken.

The program also provided opportunities for participants to meet and motivate one another.

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