Rob de Castella is traveling to all corners of Australia on a fast-paced 10-day search for promising young people to run the ING New York City Marathon as part of the Indigenous Marathon Project.
On Wednesday, the search stops in Alice Springs, in the center of the Australian Outback. In a radio interview in advance of his arrival, de Castella stressed that no experience is necessary. Candidates just need to be between the ages of 18 and 30, "fit and healthy and prepared to do some training."
The project began in 2009 as a collaboration between the Australian Institute of Sport and SmartStart, a non-profit program operated by de Castella, who won the IAAF World Championships Marathon in 1983 and finished second in New York in 1986. Its goal is to discover and develop distance runners among indigenous Australians, with the hope of someday having an indigenous runner as part of Australia's Olympic team in the marathon or on the track at 5000 meters or 10,000 meters.
But the project is also about changing lives. As part of the program, the athletes study for a certificate in Community Recreation, specializing in indigenous healthy lifestyles.
De Castella, a four-time Olympian, has brought 15 runners to the ING New York City Marathon over the past two years, four in 2010 and 11 in 2011. The fact that all have finished the race, said de Castella in the radio interview, "is an indication that there is some amazing distance-running talent in indigenous Austrailia."
The fastest athlete, 24-year-old Patrick Keain, finished in 3:19:14 last year.
To listen to de Castella's full interview, click here.
“Our races are to our sport what Wimbledon and the Australian, U.S., and French Opens are to tennis, and what the Masters, U.S., and British Opens and PGA Championship are to golf. Each race has the history, the tradition, the honor roll of legendary champions, and a special place in the eyes of all to make them stand apart from the other events.” Mary Wittenberg