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John Hill climbing a personal mountain

Dubbo College Year 12 student John Hill (right) with marathon legend Rob de Castella. Photo: Supplied Dubbo College Year 12 student John Hill (right) with marathon legend Rob de Castella. Photo: Supplied

John Hill is climbing a personal mountain

Dubbo College Year 12 student John Hill is best known for his boxing talent but the youngster has added another string to his bow – marathon runner!

John joined Brewarrina health worker Michaela Skuthorpe and athletes from all over Australia at a workshop run by marathon legend Rob de Castella and his elite coaching team who form the Indigenous Marathon Project (IMP).

They are in a squad of 12 who are pushing for positions in the final team to run the New York marathon later in the year.

John is not unused to running on the roads, pulling on his joggers for sessions with Robert “Gummy” Toomey around Dubbo, but Canberra’s winter chill was a bit different.

“We all had to rug up with beanies, tracksuits and warm socks. It was bad enough for Michaela and me, but you should have seen the boys from Broome and Darwin,” John laughed!

He actually learned about the IMP when Charlie Maher came to town to establish the Clontarf Foundation, a program targeting kids like John to stay engaged with school and develop their life goals.

“Charlie was at South and I was at Delroy but that was mainly how I found out about the IMP.”

When John and Michaela arrived in the nation’s capital, they made like-minded friends. Even though they were competing for coveted places for the trip to the Big Apple, they were more like a big family and not fiercely against each other.

“Not at all, we’re all working in a team. We all come from all across Australia. All here for the same purpose – to better our community and stuff,” they chorused.

John was full of praise for Dubbo College.

“The school's really supportive, working around me catching up with my work so I can get my HSC finished, and then it’s the NY Marathon,” he offered.

Turn the clock back two or three years, would John Hill have seen himself completing the Higher School Certificate?

“No, not at all. And especially not without Clontarf. It has given me dedication towards school and life in general and makes you work that bit harder, being that leader. It’s a good feeling that everyone looks up to you, specially the young fullas,” he added with real pride in his achievements.

John pointed out that the Clontarf Foundation working with the school means there are plenty of Aboriginal kids completing their HSC and says there are plenty of role models too.

“Clontarf is big on that!"

He also spoke of the Girls Academy at the Senior School.

“It’s keeping a lot of us involved.”

Michaela Skuthorpe is a health worker in Brewarrina.

“I’ve been in the job for about seven years, working around chronic disease and understanding the effects it has on our families and our town," Michaela said.

She’s always been passionate about wanting to do something about it.

“My goal is to get my people in good health and it is something I aim to push harder and higher. Each year I set out what I plan to do, not just for myself but for my community. They really mean so much for me.”

Michaela and John were in Canberra for training but also upskilling.

“IMP participants undertake a Certificate 4 in Sport and Recreation and there is some media training as well, and all obtain or update their First Aid/CPR skills,” Michaela explained.

Both are circumspect about final selections for New York.

“No one’s actually made the plane to NY yet! Our coaches tell us we just need to stay focussed every camp we come to and then there is the specific selection camp later in the year.”

Neither Michaela nor John are thinking too far ahead at the moment.

"Rob (de Castella) tells us to work at our own pace.”

They both mentioned Dubbo man Nathan Riley, who ran in the snow and wind at New York in 2014. He now runs another group under the Deadly Runners Project.

“It is so good to have our two squads working together. The Deadlys are preparing for a relay around Uluru later in the year and they are just so excited. It’s incredible,” Michaela said.

Both runners are also a bit surprised about being in the spotlight.

"It's mind blowing being around it all and realising a bit how famous we are,” Michaela laughed.

“Everyone was just waiting and wanting to find out who was in the final squad of 12. We were laughing and nervous but when the names were read out it was unreal! Everyone just loved us. It was like family straight away. Just great."

John says he was amazed when he received the phone call.

“Well, first I was put on the shortlist like everyone else. That was exciting enough knowing there were around 150 applicants, but when they told us the 12 who were in the final squad, I just couldn’t believe it. It was incredible!”

Two weeks after the phone call, John and Michaela were into their first camp.

John paid tribute to Kara and Robert “Gummy" Toomey who run Pound For Pound gym and youth centre. Their family’s battle with Kara’s illness has been well covered on these pages.

Two weeks ago, $150,000 was raised at a tribute dinner. John was in Canberra at the time.

“Kara and Gummy are the most inspirational people you can get. Kara is special. She’d take the shirt off her own back to help anyone,” the young boxer told me, choking back tears.

Michaela says her family and friends in Brewarrina – indeed the whole community – have been unbelievably excited about her journey.

“Everyone’s just been blown away! They actually said they didn’t even doubt me one little bit. They told me they knew I’d succeed because of the person that I am, how ‘out there’ and how much I am already involved in the community,” the confident but humble health worker giggled.

Wow! Another two inspirational sports people from our region.