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Deadly Runners set to participate in empowerment program during six-day Uluru camp

Jess Whaler -

12 First Nations women and Deadly Runners participants from Canberra, Brisbane and the coastal of New South Wales regions have been invited to sit with women of central Australia's Mutitjulu community.

During a six-day camp on Pitjantjatjara and Yankunytjatjara Country, the Deadly Runners women aged 20 to 60 will undertake a range of cultural activities and accreditation in both mental health, first aid and running.

The Deadly Runners program is a 100% Indigenous owned and operated community focused running initiative, which is rapidly growing with numbers and support among First Nations communities.

Since its conception in 2014, the program has expanded to operate within Byron Bay, Batemans Bay, Narooma, Queanbeyan and Canberra.

This life changing, transformational program is an inclusive community, seeing runners as young as four and up to 68 years of age participating on a regular basis.

The driving force behind the Deadly Runners program is a former Canberra-Queanbeyan local hero who is now based in Narooma, Georgia Weir.

An accomplished marathon runner herself, Mrs Weir has competed in the City 2 Surf, New York, Gold Coast and North Coast marathons and will be competing in Chicago in October.

Her pathway to success has seen a number of challenges, however she is now a living testament to the strength and resilience that running can teach and how possible it is to overcome trauma and turn one's life around.

Sharing her personal joy of running, Ms Weir said the best part of the New York Marathon was being able to see the city by foot.

"I think it's the best way to see somewhere and experiencing that atmosphere at those huge marathons, you just can't beat it, it's pretty incredible," she said.

The Deadly Runners program already has extensive support from Indigenous communities, with the business establishing new partnerships with Indigenous Business Australia (IBA) and Tali Katu Program, Karunpa Kunpu.

Through these partnerships, they are now launching the first ever Deadly Runners: Connect, Culture, Community Program (DRCCC) at Uluru.

The DRCCC program will take twelve outstanding Indigenous women who have become leaders and role models within their respected communities to Pitjantjatjara and Yankunytjatjara Country, where they will become immersed in culture, whilst undertaking nationally accredited training in Mental Health First Aid and fitness.

The experience has been designed to improve social and emotional wellbeing, and economic participation.

Mrs Weir said the original concept behind the program was to train leaders in each group so participants who demonstrated an eagerness to upskill were given an opportunity to learn and gain running qualifications.

However, through her own experiences, Ms Weir soon learned a whole new aspect to running and coaching, which needed to be addressed through the program.

She explained when you become a leader within a community, you then become a safe person and people can open up and share personal matters and existing trauma.

"That's where the idea of the Mental Health First Aid came in, just making sure that people who were leading these groups, were equipped with all aspects of it," Ms Weir said.

"I've always battled with depression and anxiety, severe anxiety and addiction as well. So running was something I tried as a last resort and the impact was pretty profound and life changing.

"When I first started running, I noticed that a lot of my anxiety reduced significantly."

The program's participants regularly demonstrate that anyone can run regardless of age or physical fitness.

Mrs Weir didn't come from an athletic background and was somewhat of a latecomer to running.

"I actually started when I was 30, it reduced anxiety significantly and even still to this day when I run, I feel it gives me like a freedom and I feel like a superstar after," she said.

"I just feel really good. You know, I feel really good and it just reduces anxiety. I feel more levelheaded.

"It's not usually during it. But I know how I feel after."

Those familiar with long distance running or endurance sport of any kind may have an understanding of the psychological elements, the necessary self-talk and self-coaching that happens during an event.

Mrs Weir with the South Coast Deadly Runners. (Image: supplied)

"For the marathon distance, which is really long, I think most people could train their bodies to run a marathon. It's just this mental aspect that needs to train as well," Ms Weir said.

"I had a run a couple of weeks ago, where I physically felt fine, but I was kind of mentally defeated by about one kilometre into a 28-kilometre run. Literally every five to ten minutes I had to tell myself, okay, this runs for mental strength."

"I'm building strength for the marathon. I even use different points just get to the next kilometre."

She explained that the self talk sometimes consists of "Okay, you've made that kilometre, now get past that light pole there".

"Sometimes it has to be broken down into five chunks to get through like a two and a half hour run," she explained.

Ms Weir strongly believes the mental aptitude required for long-distance running filters through to other aspects of life.

"For me? Absolutely. Yeah. And I think that's why Deadly Runners has such an impact as well, because the people who are doing the program, are people who haven't run before," she said.

"It's a long-distance run, and what's required for that long distance run is, you know; focus, commitment, determination, and discomfort.

"I think that's probably the biggest thing I've learned from distance running, is being able to stick with discomfort."

Mrs Weir said she is excited for the DCCC program and the upcoming camp.

She said of the twelve participants, six were selected due to the personal impact the program has had on their lives, with the remaining six selected through an expression of interest process.

The positive interest for the program was extraordinary and Mrs Weir, a former Australian public servant with experience working in both Indigenous programs and policy, the interest generated is due to the programs ability to address community needs.

"There's the mental health first aid, there's the accreditation, running accreditation, but there's also the country healing program that's facilitated by one of the women at the Mutitjulu Community," she said.

She explained it makes an impact by providing self-determination, through qualifications, job opportunities and education around trauma.

"It's understanding we all have trauma. You know... we all do," she said.

"One of the most empowering things that I've done is understand my trauma and how it affected my decision making and the trajectory of my life really, and it gave me a freedom."

She shared her excitement about creating a space in time and opportunity for the 12 women to understand not just their own trauma, but how trauma presents in communities.

"When people have said that it's changed their life. I think that's been you know... it's very humbling," she said.

"When runners run their first 20 minutes nonstop, and I've had women break down when they achieve that, that's really... that's my favourite run.

"I enjoy it more than like the 5k, because that's when all the previous aspects come together and they run their first solid 20.

"There's definitely a shift and they start believing that they can actually do this."

Mrs Weir said the evolution of the Deadly Runners has been made possible due to the support of Indigenous Business Australia after she completed the "life changing" IBA Accelerator Program in 2019.

"It's a fantastic experience and I highly recommend it to anyone who's not only just starting out in business, but might already have a business," she said.

"It provides knowledge that would otherwise take years to learn.

"I just can't praise them enough. Just the help that they've given me and the time that they've given me over the years. I just wouldn't be here without them."

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