I write a weekly column for my local paper; The Torres News. The column is called Ailan Yarns (translates to Island Chats) and it focuses on sharing positive stories from within the community. It also shines a light on local issues to give the community a chance to voice their opinions. Enjoy.
Published in The Torres News
Printed: 22nd June 2018
Author: Kantesha Takai
Most people will know Saliman Binjuda’s story of success and crossing the finish line at the New York Marathon, one of the most prestigious marathons in the world.
But, rewind to just three years ago and Saliman wasn’t in a good space. He lost his mum in 2014 and was grief-ridden and struggling to find direction for most of 2015.
“Drinking was like a comfort thing for me and I would drink almost every chance I got. And, every Sunday morning I’d be walking home and would pass bala Harold on his training runs.”
One Sunday morning, Harold (a co-founder of the TI Deadly Runners group) invited Saliman to the colour fun run. Saliman didn’t think anything of it at first, but then decided to give it a go.
“I rocked up that following Saturday and ran with Harold. I asked him questions about the Indigenous Marathon Project and why he was doing it”
Harold’s answers combined with the positive feeling of accomplishment at the end of the race inspired Saliman to want to be more involved. So, he started joining Harold on his Sunday training runs.
Before they knew it, the TI Deadly Runners group was created.
“It was called the TI Marathon Crew back then and there was only 6 of us. We’d meet at the turtles near the wharf and just run alongside Elsie and Harold while they trained.”
Inspired by both Elsie and Harold, Saliman tried out for the Indigenous Marathon Project in 2015. Unfortunately, he wasn’t successful. But, he applied again in 2016 and was accepted.
This was when everything became real for Saliman. His training regime started, and he was running six days a week, clocking an average of 5-8kms a day.
“I used to run with my head down because I was scared about people driving pass me and judging me or talking badly about me. It wasn’t until people started coming up to me on the street and giving me words of encouragement that I realised people were supporting and cheering me on.”
Part of his training included trips away to camps and running events across Queensland.
“My first trip was to the Canberra Reconciliation Run where I met my IMP squad for the first time.”
Being the only Queenslander in the squad, Saliman felt the pressure of representing his state, his people and the Torres Strait.
“Everyone in the squad was very nervous and shy for the first minute or so, but after you started hearing everyone’s stories and why they were involved in IMP, you just gelled and found comfort in each other. We became inseparable.”
When he returned from Canberra, Saliman’s training was increased to prepare for the next event, the Gold Coast Marathon. His running circuit around the island became longer and harder. He’d have to run “the loop” around the island multiple times just to clock the training distance.
“Running across the finish line of the Gold Coast Marathon brought me to tears. I was an emotional wreck. I couldn’t believe that I ran 21km and that soon I would run a full 42.2km. And, when I ran down the chute, I saw the TI Deadly’s and kids cheering me on and that just broke me.”
Training and racing became the norm for Saliman, but he managed to hold a full-time job which requires him to travel to the outer islands, make home visits and work outside of normal business hours. But, Saliman didn’t let this affect his training. He found the time to train and pre-prepped all his meals. He was focused.
“My favourite course would have to be the 30km Alice Springs Run. We were told that we’d be running through a sacred site and I could feel a strong spiritual connection when I ran that race.”
Saliman recalls the spectacular sunrise and watching the morning dew glisten along the course, creating a rainbow effect on the grass. He remembers watching the sky turn purple, the surrounding rocks become a bright orange, and he felt empowered and fulfilled.
“You start the race with everyone from your squad and at first you can hear everyone’s footsteps and then everything goes silent and all you hear is your own footsteps and your breathing. It’s a surreal feeling.”
Coming back to TI after Uluru meant that his next race would be the big one; the New York Marathon.
Three weeks out from the New York Marathon, Saliman had an accident on one of his routine training runs. A wandering dog bit his knee and he was left bleeding on the side of the road. Fortunately, a good Samaritan helped him get home.
“I started balling my eyes out because I thought that this had ruined my chances for New York. I called my trainer and apologised for not finishing training that day and all I could think was that I had broken my leg or that the dog ripped a tendon. I was in so much pain.”
Saliman rushed to hospital and an Xray revealed that the dog bite was just inches away from a ligament. Thankfully, the doctor confirmed that the wound would heal in time for New York.
Soon enough, Saliman was en-route to New York, an experience he’d never forget. Despite being racially profiled and embarrassed with thorough and public pat-down searches at the LA airport and the New York Airport, Saliman finally made it to New York.
He had endured so much to get to where he was, and he embraced every part of his New York experience, especially the New York Marathon.
Saliman explained that there’s a thing called “runner’s wall” where your body shuts down and goes into depletion mode. All you have left is your spirit and that’s what gets you across the finish line. Saliman didn’t experience the “runner’s wall” on previous runs, but it hit him hard once he reached the final kilometres of the New York Marathon.
“I hit the wall, my legs felt like jelly and my mind just went blank. I stopped and just stood there. A lady gave me some water and I shuffled a little more and then I couldn’t run anymore. I held on to the railing.”
Saliman remembered that Rob De Castella had given each of them $20, which he tucked into his shoe. The money was to catch the taxi to the finish line if they couldn’t run the entire race. Saliman thought long and hard about quitting.
“I looked down at the tape around my arm with notes from my family and friends back home. I put the tape everywhere, even on my singlet. I read each of the notes trying to regain my strength. I started to cry because I realised that I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t finish the race and I was letting all these people down.”
On the tape across his hand Saliman wrote his main reasons for running the marathon. On it were the words ‘mum, family, TI and community.’
“I closed my eyes and begged for my mum, family and community to be with me in spirit. I begged for their help and to push me through this. And, in the spur of the moment I felt like someone was hugging me and I heard a voice saying; you can do it, don’t give up, you’re almost there. Then I heard a second voice saying; come on baby. I opened my eyes, but there was no one with me.”
Whether it was his mind in depletion mode or a spiritual sign, Saliman used it to soldier on. He shuffled towards the chute and then found the strength to sprint the last 200 metres across the finish line.
“The moment that participation medal hit my chest, I dropped to my knees in tears. I stood up, found my squad mates and hugged them. We stood there carrying our flags and holding each other.”
Saliman’s journey to the New York Marathon is movie quality and despite the hurdles along the way, he didn’t let anything stop him from achieving his goal and finishing the race.
But to him, it was more than just crossing that finish line.
“On my mum’s death bed, she said don’t give up, aim high and aim big.”
And, that’s exactly what Saliman did.
Eso for sharing your story bala and being an inspiration to your community.