Sudanese athlete overcomes diversity to run for Australia

Uploaded by ausport on 23.02.2010

I was born in Sudan. It is a country in Northern Africa.I was living in a bad situation. Your
choice was to stay there and die or get out of the country and live.Melbourne was different
world. It was terrible. I couldn’t understand what anyone was saying and I didn’t know
what was going on. I was hiding from everyone and talking only to my own people. I found
it hard picking up English.
School got me into running. I competed in school cross country and athletics.Doing P.E.
I was real good (at running). The teacher got me to join a club in Melbourne. He paid
and did everything for me just so I could run.I didn’t really like running and had
no idea that it was a sport but he encouraged me to have a go at it. I trained for a few
weeks and I started liking it so I stayed with it.
At the club it was pretty difficult. Trying to understand what the coach was saying was
hard because I didn’t have much English. When I went there I found that there were
much fitter guys than me so it was hard to keep up with them.
had a lot of good athletes and because of that I tended to be down in Melbourne a lot.
In the coaching circles you meet up with a lot of the other coaches and I became friendly
with one in particular after I helped him coach one of his athletes in Ballarat. He mentioned in a conversation one day that
a young Sudanese lad named Duer, who he used to coach on an infrequent basis, had moved
to Ballarat so we tried to find him without much luck. One day we saw a photo of him in
the paper playing soccer for a local team so by hook or by crook we tracked him down
and asked him whether he wanted to come down for a run and the rest is history.
I started running with Rod’s group and found that the other athletes were good guys. They
and Rod massively supported me so I decided to stick to it.”
3.13 - 3.35 Duer's coach, Rod Griffin speaking to camera in a gymnasium
I’m blessed with a really good training group of girls, guys and people from all ages
from 50 down to 12 years old. They are just all good people. I think that because I had
such a good group and they made Duer feel so welcome I didn’t have to ask him to stay.
He enjoyed their company and they enjoyed his company. It was just a natural progression.
He showed it almost from the first day. It was a week into training with us where I realised
how committed he was. Duer lives at the other end of town about 20 km’s away from where
we train. He missed the bus to get out to training one day so he ran here. I knew then
that this kid is fair dinkum about wanting to become an athlete.
It was a real fast 3 km run. I went out there and gave it everything I got. I ran 9 minutes
flat and from point I knew that I could achieve something.
Some of the challenges locally revolve around transport. He lives at the other end of town
so we need to make sure he can get home and get to training. We usually have a roster
where some of the athletes might drop him off some nights whilst I’ll drop him off
on other nights. On a bigger scale it’s when we start looking at major events that
we face some challenges. Duer is not funded by the VIS or Athletics Australia so when
we need to go to an interstate meet its difficult to find the funding for flights and accommodation.
This is a major challenge that me as a coach/manager has to look at. Also I’ve noticed that when
some people talk to Duer they yell at him because they think he doesn’t understand
English. He speaks better English than most of us do. I think at times there is perceived
language barrier and that some people think that Duer’s from another planet.
At first they (my parents) didn’t like me doing running because they reckon that I should
be playing soccer. It was game I played back where I was born and people treated it importantly.
Since I made the Australian junior world cross country team though they have given me massive
support , encouragement and help.
I know Duer’s folks and I have been around to their home and they are lovely people.
I coach the athlete. I know his parents are fully on board with him and that’s all I
care about really. I think reality set in for Duer’s dad when I had to go around to
his home one night with the paperwork to get an Australian passport for him. It was then
when he realised that his son is pretty good at this and that he is actually going to represent
The advice I’d give coaches is to treat your athletes as you would treat any of your
athletes. You don’t have to do anything differently. If you are going to coach any
athlete from any background you need a support structure for that athlete. If you are going
to coach a group of Sudanese athletes and they live at the other end of town you shouldn’t
just expect them to come to training and make their own way home. You have to set up an
infrastructure that enables them to get to training and back. If they start to get to
the next level you also have to start to think about how you are going to get funding for
them. It isn’t just going to fall into your lap. You need to get out there and be proactive.
The first major race we went to was the Victorian all-schools and he won that but it wasn’t
a very strong field. Since that he has probably improved by 90 seconds over 5 km’s. Some
of the things that he has won are the Victorian all-schools 5 km title, the Victorian 5 km
title at Under 20 level, two Victorian cross country titles, a 4th in the trial for the
world cross country and then back in Australia he came 3rd in the Australian cross country
When I first started running I didn’t know that it was a big sport and that it could
give me a good future. Now that I know that running is an important sport in the world
I know that it can help me in the future with my career.
With the history that Ballarat has got with Steve Monaghetti and others it a pretty fair
achievement for Duer to win the races he has won at his age.
For me running is challenging. I love racing and winning.