The West

Picture: Trevor Collens

It is a long way from the hot, red dirt of Karratha to the battered pavement of New York city.

But as 22-year-old Sam Shepherd runs past the city's countless monuments and skyscrapers tomorrow, weaving her way through the crowd towards the finish of the New York marathon, no doubt home will be on her mind.

After seven months of training in what now must seem a world away, she will complete her journey from engineering student to marathon runner.

It is a journey she says has changed her life.

As a part of Rob de Castella's Indigenous Marathon Project, Shepherd and 10 other young men and women have been given the chance to compete in the world-famous race.

It is the second year de Castella has taken his marathon project to New York in his quest to find an indigenous Olympian in the sport he starred in for so long.

But the former world champion also believes the program will make a difference by just getting project participants to the finish line.

He said he saw the project as a way to set a practical and spiritual path for young indigenous people.

"A marathon is symbolic," he said. "It is one of the hardest things you can do, which makes it a rite of passage.

"If we find a champion one day, that's a bonus.

"But if we can help address chronic disease, obesity and social problems in parts of indigenous Australia and make people feel good about themselves, that's the main thing."

More than 100,000 people apply to run the New York marathon every year and almost 50,000 finish the race. Its organisers boast it is the biggest in the world, with a million New Yorkers cheering from the sidelines and millions more people watching on TV.

Shepherd said she had a simple goal - to finish the race within four hours without walking.

Picture: Trevor Collens
The West Australian

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