Papua New Guinea team runs their race of life at Gold Coast Marathon
BY CLIFF WORTHING
Several estimates conclude that only one per cent of the world’s population has run a marathon.
For Papua New Guinea, the percentage is even less, but The Salvation Army Hope and a Future program has worked to increase those numbers since 2014.
This year was the seventh group of Papua New Guinea runners brought to Australia to participate in the Gold Coast Marathon, and the first time after COVID restrictions were lifted. Each year, 10 participants are selected to participate in the training, provided with experienced marathon runners as mentors, and brought to the Gold Coast to run and gain exposure to Salvation Army ministries in Queensland.
Kila Gwareva, from a village several hours outside of Port Moresby, ran the fastest time of any PNG runner since the start of the program at this year’s Gold Coast marathon.
The program gives young nationals from Papua New Guinea, identified as future leaders in their country, the opportunity to be mentored in leadership skills and is modelled around four key pillars – faith, fitness, education and leadership.
A major aspect this year was how the group overcame obstacles to actually participate in the marathon, and life lessons to equip them for ministry and personal growth.
“I have never experienced such a thing in my life, but because of God’s grace, now I have.” – Participant
In addition to the challenges of six months of training, many in the group faced documentation issues, such as birth certificates, passports and visa delays. Peter Tati even had his flight cancelled at the last minute, but believing God wanted him to run, he persisted in talking to the airlines until one of the pilots found him a spare seat.
Many commented on how overcoming all the obstacles and persevering was important preparation for the actual race and built their confidence to face current and future life’s challenges.
“Some people saw me as a quitter, and I often found it hard to finish things,” said Sandra Ali. “Now I know I can do it!”
At the team debrief following the race, many participants talked of overcoming their doubts, wanting to give up because of the pain, but pushing past physical and psychological barriers to achieve their goals. Scriptures, songs and encouragement from mentors and the rest of the team helped each runner finish the race. Every program participant since 2014 has completed the marathon distance.
‘Nobody gets left behind’ became the motto for this year. One example of team spirit this year involved the whole team running back along the course to meet up with the last runner and run with her to the finish line. “I saw my teammates come for me, and I cried all the way to the finish,” Rata Vele said. “We all made it together!”
Each participant has a mentor to help with training, encouragement and perspective. Several mentioned how they have been positively impacted by the example of the person they coached.
“Humility and gratefulness are two things I have learned from this group,” said Bill Hunter, this year’s team leader. “They encourage me in my spiritual journey.” Bill explained that one example of gratitude was from Parker, a runner who had been training with various running groups since he was 13. This year, he was selected to run on the Gold Coast, but complications with his birth certificate and passport meant he couldn’t make the trip. “I imagined he was devastated, but he told me that God was in charge and now wasn’t his time,” Bill said.
“I have never experienced such a thing in my life, but because of God’s grace, now I have,” Kila said.