IMP rays of sunshine too hot for 30km challenge!

Sunday 27 September, 5:15am.

It was dark; the sun was still sleeping.

A full moon resting just above the horizon illuminated the morning sky and momentarily distracted 10 nervous runners who were about to shine their own light on one of the most memorable days of their lives.

A light so bright and unlike the sun, it would not sleep.

The squad huddled together in a close circle with supporters, graduates and IMP staff, inspired by words of their coach and mentor, Mick Rees, and the oracle of wisdom, the Godfather of the Marathon, Deek.

They stood on the start line at Flynn’s Grave feeling the chill of the cold Alice Springs morning air and the chill of nerves synonymous with any early morning race.

Then it was time; time to run.

Time to bury the demons of self-doubt and shame.

Time to put one foot in front of the other for 30kms.

Time to run for their families, their communities, the country and themselves.

Time to unearth their inner inextinguishable fire of resilience, pride, strength and courage.

Off they went into the morning dawn, settling into their own rhythm reflecting on all of their training that has prepared them for the most important run of all – the key to the New York City Marathon.

Enveloped by the spectacular red rock of the McDonald’s Ranges, treated to a sky mixed with tones of subtle blue and pink suggesting the sun was stirring.

Running on the quiet roads of Alice Springs, it was just the runners, their minds and a silence that meant you could hear rocks tumbling down the surface of the ranges.

Four support cars were on course to administer water, a distance runner’s best friend – jelly beans and snakes – and of course lots of encouragement and cheers!

Graduates from each year of the project – Charlie Maher (2010), Nadine Hunt (2011), Jamie Wunungmurra (2012), Charmaine Patrick (2013) and Adrian Dodson-Shaw (2014), along with IMP supporter, Jo Weaver, ran with the runners and provided an added 30kms of support and reassuring presence.

The sun was soon full of energy, the chill of the dark morning now transformed into a heat that contradicted the squad’s first camp in Canberra; just a month before winter.

Now it was time to sweat.

Sweat from heat and sweat from sheer hard work. Sweat for a spot in the final squad to dominate the 2015 New York Marathon.

South Australia’s, Daniel Lloyd, led the squad from start to finish, pushed along by team mate hot on his heels, Chris Guyula from Gapuwiyak in the Northern Territory, and 2011 Graduate, Nadine Hunt from Cairns (now living in Canberra), who joined the boys for the final 20km.

The rest of the squad wasn’t far behind and all doing incredibly well under the heat of the Alice Springs sun.

They pushed themselves through pain and personal struggle. They let that pain drive them to finish strong; finish hard.

Pain was their friend teaching them a lesson in resilience and strength – strength of body and of mind.

Remember it was only four short months ago the squad met in Canberra for the first time with no previous running experience.

Now here they were, pushing through 30km in the Central Australian heat.

It was time to inspire.

Inspire change, inspire people, inspire communities.

Inspire a nation.

Supporters were gathering at the finish line on the lawns of the Double Tree Hotel to cheer the squad home over the last 1km.

And it wasn’t long until they came steaming home.

Daniel Lloyd of Murray Bridge in SA, was gifted the perfect birthday present, flying home in a time of 2:27:38 closely followed by Chris Guyula representing Gapuwiyak in the NT who had stuck with his mate the entire way, crossing in 2:30:11.

IMP’s first ever Victorian representative, Jessica Lovett-Murray, had a strong cheer squad with her family having travelled 2,000km to see their girl achieve a life-changing, unforgettable moment – sprinting the finish of a 30km run in a time of 2:54:25, running the final 8km with her partner, Jeff, running by her side.

Ten minutes later, with tears streaming down her face and determination streaming through her veins, Harriet David from Cairns, stormed home in a time of 3:04:58.

Inspired by her fellow community Graduates Evelyna Dhamarrandji (2013) and Rachel Baker (2014) from Elcho Island, Jacinta Gurruwiwi followed their footsteps and made it home in 3:11:10.

Dwayne Jones is the first of his mob to ever run 30km and he smashed it, finishing strongly to cross in a time of 3:30:30 closely followed by Queanbeyan’s Aaron West, mentored and supported for the past year by 2013 Graduate, Georgia Gleeson through her Queanbeyan Deadly Runners Group, in 3:31:01.

Thursday Island is represented for the second consecutive year, with Alicia Sabatino stopping the clock in a time of 3:33:40.

John Leha has shed an incredible 40kgs since the start of the year and shuffled his way through the 5km trial in March. Today his strength and resilience was unquestionable, sprinting through the finish line to record a time of 3:35:01.

It was an incredibly emotional finish for John who admitted IMP has changed his life.

“That was by far the hardest thing I have ever done. I am a much stronger person, now I believe in myself and know I can achieve things I never thought possible.

“I never would have dreamt at the start of this year that I could run 30km. I couldn’t run at all! I was 170kgs, I’m down to 130kgs and I just ran 30km – I’m so proud of what I achieved today,” he said.

Eileen Byers of Casino, ran the entire way with IMP supporter, Jo Weaver, and completed the squad’s 30km success, crossing in 4:07:10.

Each of these runners has overcome incredible adversity, personal struggle and self-doubt.

We couldn’t be more proud of these incredible Indigenous Australians and what they have achieved in a significantly short amount of time.

They are the pride of our nation, they shine resilience, determination, and commitment.

Today they proved to themselves that hard work, obstacles, and pain – mental and physical – are barriers to push through; not be defeated by.

They learnt that self-belief is a necessary driving force for success.

And they learnt that each step through difficult darkness is one step closer to warm, comforting days of sunshine.

Congratulations, to each and every one of our 2015 squad – you are incredible individuals whose potential knows no boundaries and whose character beams rays of IMP sunshine right across the country.

Summary of results (gallery of images to come):

Daniel Lloyd, SA 2:27:38
Chris Guyula, NT 2:30:11
Jessica Lovett-Murray, VIC 2:54:25
Harriet David, QLD 3:04:58
Jacinta Gurruwiwi, NT 3:11:10
Dwayne Jones, NT 3:30:30
Aaron West, NSW 3:31:01
Alicia Sabatino, QLD 3:33:40
John Leha, NSW 3:35:01
Eileen Byers, NSW 4:07:10