1 May 2024

'It was for Cape York': Graham runs into marathon history for hometown

| Lyndon Keane
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Former Weipa resident Bianca Graham makes history after crossing the line in the 2024 London Marathon on 21 April. Photo: Supplied.

Former Weipa resident Bianca Graham says her recent world record marathon effort in London was for her family, friends and the entire community of western Cape York.

Graham became the first Torres Strait Islander woman to complete the world’s six major marathons on 21 April when she crossed the finish line in London, almost 15,000 kilometres from where her running journey began on Weipa’s bauxite-rich soil 13 years ago.

The quietly-spoken Graham undertook the mammoth effort of completing the 42.2km courses in Toyko, Boston, London, Berlin, Chicago and New York – the so-called Abbott Six – as part of the Indigenous Marathon Project (IMP), which uses running to inspire and empower participants from across Australia.

With family connections to Mer (Murray) Island, Graham – who now lives in Townsville – said Weipa and the western Cape would always be home, adding she only took on the IMP challenge in 2011 “out of spite”.

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“I always tell the story that I remember a family friend in Weipa handing me a flyer that said ‘do you want to run the New York Marathon this year?’’ she laughed.

“It wasn’t the location that attracted me; I knew marathons had something to do with the Olympics, and when I saw I could run one this year, I was really doubting it, and I actually applied out of spite.

“I just thought marathons were for the Olympics, not in Weipa; I thought ‘it’s ridiculous and let me so you why’.”

Despite the unconventional start to running, the 42-year-old embraced the IMP ethos and made history for the first time when she and teammate Nadine Hunt crossed the New York City finish line hand in hand in 2011 to become the first Indigenous women from Australia to conquer the event.

Bianca Graham, Nadine Hunt and Luke McKenzie at the Boston Marathon in 2016. Photo: Supplied.

Reflecting on her journey from that first marathon, Graham said her motivation had always been about making her family and community proud, rather than personal accolades.

“Leading up to it, it was always about the western Cape and my community, because I knew when I got selected, the penny dropped we were going to be … the first Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women to run the New York City Marathon,” she told Cape York Weekly after returning from London.

“[The preparation] was lonely; no one got what I was doing, but it was about them and my family.

“People in Weipa and Napranum saw the clips of the finish line and were so stoked, so I was just so proud.”

While ticking off the Abbott Six was not initially on Graham’s radar, she said she had been thrilled to cross the finish line in London after two false starts, one of which included 18-month-old son Kai.

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“This was a really tough one,” she explained.

“I originally wanted to do it in 2020, but we know what happened there [with COVID-19], then in 2022 I was pregnant, so this was the third time trying to run it.

“I was pretty determined to do it as soon as I could after having Kai.

“A whole village has enabled me to be there, and I literally mean that; I just wanted to do it for them.”

Now on the Indigenous Marathon Foundation board, Graham described how the IMP had changed her life, in that it had opened her world up well beyond the asphalt and concrete path she had followed since 2011.

“That’s part of the ripple effect of the project,” she said.

“You start to see what capacity you’ve got, and start to challenge yourself in different ways.

“It’s what’s kept me running; I just want to be that example.”

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