Kimba Benjamin had always thought of herself as a short distance runner until she decided to tackle the New York City Marathon.
“Every kid grows up seeing Cathy Freeman,” she said.
“I just loved her. I wanted to be her. She was my role model. In athletics at school and high school, I’d compete in the 100m and 200m and things like that.
“But I was probably more suited to long distance running. I just got brought up in that environment where athletics was what you did as a kid and long distance running wasn’t even heard of — not even a kilometre, that was considered just insane.”
Earlier this month Benjamin achieved her goal of running one of the world’s most iconic marathons.
She crossed the finish line at New York’s Central Park in a time of four hours, 30 minutes and eight seconds.
It was a satisfying end to six months of intense training for the gruelling 42km race through New York streets with a record 51,000 other runners.
Benjamin was one of 12 people from around Australia who ran in the event this year as part of marathon great Robert de Castella’s Indigenous Marathon Project.
The Indigenous Marathon Project, run by de Castella’s Indigenous Marathon Foundation, aims to nurture the long distance running potential of Indigenous Australians.
This year’s New York squad didn’t disappoint.
All 12 runners finished the event on November 6 — the first marathon for all of them.
Mt Druitt man Jesse Thompson became the fastest Indigenous Australian to finish the race as part of the project with a time of two hours and 45 minutes.
De Castella said it was a big achievement for all of the runners who came from as far afield as Thursday Island to Wreck Bay in New South Wales.
“There is no place like New York, and there is no run anywhere on the planet like the famous New York City Marathon,” he said.
“It is the biggest, most exciting and one of the toughest marathons, and it’s an extraordinary achievement for all 12 runners to qualify to run it.”
The marathon project was founded in 2010 and so far 53 Indigenous runners have tackled the New York event.
De Castella said that before the project began no Indigenous Australian had completed a major international marathon.
Benjamin, a documentary maker who is now based in Perth, said she was proud of the achievement.
“We all wrote on our hands one or two reasons why we were running and what would get us through when we were in that time or if we hit the wall,” she said.
“I just wrote on my hand ‘my mob, my people, strong, resilient’. I wanted to embody that.”