Today we have something special. The thing that inspires me most about Running Mums Australia is the people I get to meet or hear about and this story struck a real chord with me. Being indigenous in Australia can have a stereotype attached and and also sometimes it comes with an array of family history that affects health and poorer outcomes in life expectancy. For this amazing runner Allirra, she has overturned the ‘statistics’ and is creating a life full of health, running and legacy that will live on in her children. Thank you Allirra for sharing your story.
I would like to start my story with the three things I love about running. The first is the ‘personal time’ or ‘time out’ it gives me from my busy workload (I have a full time job, 2 casual jobs and 2 children). The second thing I love about running is that I’m pretty okay at it. I’m not a ‘skilled’ person so I don’t play any team sports because I don’t want to let my team down- but running is something I feel confident in. The third thing I love about running is watching the sun rise every morning.
I wasn’t always a runner though; at my heaviest weight I could not jog/shuffle 100m from one power pole to the next. Back in January 2013 my life turned upside down when I lost my grandma to diabetes. I was unfortunate (but maybe fortunate) enough to be present when the doctor declared to my mumma that she would soon die. She begged and bargained for her life, she stated truthfully to the doc she had managed her diabetes as best as she could and she wanted to live. Utterly ashamed of myself- I sat on her hospital bed 107 kilos eating a greasy breakfast not at all caring for the gift I had of being alive. A little over a week later I lost my grandma and I began my fight to run from one power pole to the next.
By late 2013 I had lost 30kilos. The applications were open for the Indigenous Marathon Project. I had followed the Project since its pioneer year in 2010 so I applied. It was a long shot for me- I did well in the 3km time trial and I felt like I had interviewed well- but I was up against 120 people in Australia for a spot on a squad of 12! In May when I got the call to say I was selected I was so nervous and excited that I vomited (after the phone call thankfully).
My training with IMP started immediately so that I could run the 10km Reconciliation Week Run in Canberra this May. Canberra of course turned on its finest weather. It was pouring rain and windy as we looped around Lake Burley Griffith. Moments before we set off; Robert de Castella cheerfully announced to the crowd that he was glad it was miserable weather because he believed it would make us stronger saying “The greater the struggle, the greater the reward”. Deeks must have paid the gods that day for the rains because after just 7 weeks of training, we went on to complete the Gold Coast Half Marathon.
The Gold Coast Marathon was the first time I had ever been to a big running event. The day before the race, as a team we drove the course. I looked at the pathway on the foreshore and the km markers on the roadside and asked “Why didn’t they put the markers closer to the footpath we’ll be on?”. Hahahaha. Did I mention I’m from a little town called Katherine? Finishing the GC half as a sub 2 was the best feeling ever. I felt really proud being the first Gurrindji and Kungurrakan woman to run a half marathon and crossed the line with my dead grandparents’ names written on my forearms.
The next big race was the City2Surf. Although I had run longer, the thought of Heartbreak Hill daunted me because Katherine is very flat. I had a terrible lead up to the event: I had giardia (tick that off the bucket list), food poisoning, a decayed tooth removed, two tummy bugs, physio for my calf and every child and adult in my house had been sick (house of horrors material). But I trained when I was well enough and did the perpetual juggling-mum act and got there in the end. Halfway up HeartBreak Hill my Garmin clocked my split as 5:54- which is a slow km for me. I knew at that moment I had it and changed my focus on trying to outrun the guy with 10 blue balloons strapped to his back (I have a fear of balloons). I crossed the City2Surf finish line in 73mins and was the first girl from IMP home. So maybe I should thank the blue balloon guy for his help?
Right now I’m preparing for the 30km trial in Alice Springs. This trial will determine who is selected for the New York Marathon team. Presently, I am running everyday and clocking over 80km per week. The challenges I have are; staying as injury free as possible, carving some ‘me’ time to train, and training in tiny, remote Aboriginal communities that I travel to and stay overnight in for work. Also, I will soon have to admit I am not superwoman and will have to pause my casual jobs as a gym instructor and Brumbies-girl.
The challenges listed above are true and they take a lot of work to get around. But the benefits of me running far outweigh the bad. For a long time, I felt so guilty going to a gym class or going for a run that my brain would play tricks on me and would flick me images of my two sons in tattered clothes, crying from hunger!! But I now know that living an active lifestyle is benefitting them immensely. My husband is also Aboriginal and his family too are riddled with diabetes and other chronic diseases. The stats shout to us that we are 3 times more likely to die early from chronic diseases- and for so long I accepted it. I was going to be the hat trick diabetic in my family- but I challenged it and I came out on top. I am going to break the chain.
My reason for joining the Project was not to get a free trip to NY; the challenge and accomplishment of completing a marathon remains the same regardless of where you run it. I truly hope that by sharing my story, all Australian people will leave their ‘too hard’ excuses at the door and really start living better lives. I also hope one day when I go for my run in Katherine, I will see another Indigenous person running.