Early in November, six first responders set off from Sydney Airport bound for the United States to represent Fortem Australia in the New York Marathon.
Two NSW Police Officers, two Queensland Police Officers, a NSW Rescue Paramedic and an ACT Rural Fire Service firefighter met for the first time after months of virtual meet ups during their preparations.
For ACT RFS firefighter Craig Harrison, it was nice to meet first responders from other agencies in a positive environment compared to previous experience with police officers and paramedics.
“Sometimes there is not a lot of interaction outside of emergency situations,” said Craig.
“To be together and to be on that one journey was great, and to talk to people from other agencies and hear their stories and see the kinds of things they deal with in their jobs day-to-day.
“It was certainly different to my experience as a volunteer so the emergency work only comes sporadically, for the others it is their full-time job and they face these challenges multiple times every week.”
NSW Paramedic Emma Shawyer said the team connected long before stepping on the plane to New York as they all prepared for the marathon individually.
“The way we started doing virtual meetings from the start really set a foundation where everyone got to know each other,” said Shawyer.
“We started supporting each other through social media during our long training runs and when we got over there, we felt like we already knew one another.
“I don’t think I have had that type of relationship with other services. I have worked with them and I know my local guys but I didn’t know what they are going through, or spoken to them on a deeper level.
“When you spend time and talk with the people from other agencies, you find that the things that are hard for you are the things that other people are battling as well, and it makes you feel more connected.”
On their first full day in New York the team made their way to the 9/11 Memorial as part of a small ceremony to honour the first responders lost during the act of terror in 2001.
Harrison said it was a meaningful experience to visit the memorial.
“We laid a wreath at the survivor tree in memorial of the people that died in the attacks,” said Craig.
“We had some words from people at the NYPD and then had a tour of the site – it was a great way to start the time in New York.”
Two days later on Sunday, November 6, the team was up early to make their way to the starting line of the marathon.
For Emma Shawyer, there were nerves in the lead up to the start of the run.
“You couldn’t imagine, it was like imposter syndrome feeling like I shouldn’t be here,” said Shawyer.
“Looking at all of these amazing runners, people doing laps and standing with my copper friends who are also amazing runners – there were doubts about whether I could do this that I didn’t have in the 12 weeks of training.
“Then the gun went off and I was really emotional that I was actually there after thinking about it for so long.”
Both Emma and Craig had their own battles throughout the 26-mile run.
Craig’s training had been hampered by a knee injury in the lead up to the marathon, and while his knee held up on the day, he battled fatigue.
“About a third of the way through a lack of fitness really started telling,” said Craig.
“The knee was feeling alright but I had to do a bit of walking because I just wasn’t fit enough.
“By the final third I had a good pattern going with a little walk, make sure my knee was OK and then run a bit.
“It was about three or four miles out where it clicked and I knew I was going to make the finish line where you run into Central Park and have a great finish to an amazing race.”
Emma also had to push through self-doubt during the latter stages of the run.
“The miles were ticking by and the first 15 were really strong and I was thinking ‘this is incredible,’ I was enjoying it with the music on the sidelines and people cheering me on.
“I got to mile 20 and thought I couldn’t do it, but I pushed through and go to mile 21, 22 and eventually through to the finish line where I was a crying ball of appreciation and proudness.”
All six runners finished on the day, and are proud to have been the first team to represent Fortem and all of Australia’s first responder community at the global event.
Craig has described the event as a life changing experience. Click here to watch Craig’s story.
“I was really proud to be chosen, I am a big fan of Fortem and have used the wellbeing services quite a bit,” said Craig.
“I was happy to represent Fortem and honoured to meet the other five first responders and help to get the message out that Fortem is there and available to first responders and their families if they need help.”
Fortem is grateful to for everyone who played a part in helping to send the team of first responders to the United States. A special thank you to Vicki O’Dea from TravelManagers Australia who went above and beyond as our preferred travel supplier and generous supporter of Fortem Australia, and Ambassador Cam Watts who was on the ground in New York to support the team.
Media contact: Simon Anderson, M – 0448 601 391 E – firstname.lastname@example.org