The Joy of the Distance Runner
By Roslyn Hames
They say that Geelong must the National Institute of Sport with its long list of alumni running into the record books. Adding grist to the mill, the latest graduate, Joanna Wall, has the goods and more after a battle with illness saw her almost permanently sidelined. Roslyn Hames tags along for a few laps.
Joanna Wall is at once fragile and whippet strong, all muscle and sinew encasing benevolence beyond her 19 years. ‘One day I would like to run a marathon,’ surmises the 5K runner, ‘but with distance running there is no hurry. You can run for a long time in life.’ Joanna wistfully concedes that she might even aim for an Olympics as soon as she can believe it to be achievable, but for the moment the National champion is enjoying taking things one step at a time.
Her days consist of a hearty dollop of friends and family, yoga, local work and a new job in a physiotherapist to complement tertiary study. And then there is running. ‘There were times when running became a chore,’ Joanna allows. Stalled by a physical breakdown over a year ago, Joanna had to overcome all boundaries to rebuild every aspect of her life. ‘It really is a case of what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. I now take nothing for granted. We all have things to get through and learn from which makes us better then ever. That was the case for me.’
Joanna showed ability for running, considerably later in life, for an athlete at 16 years of age. She then commenced training with coach Bruce Scriven, considered by many to be the best in Australia. ‘He is like a second uncle to me.’ Things started happening very quickly for Joanna. Suddenly she was competing at the World Cross Country in Belguim (recently coming 20th in the world in the Juniors in Ireland in 2002). In the past year she has won the Victorian and National under 20s 3,000m and was a member of the Australian team for Women’s Ekiden Relay in Japan.
Athleticism runs in the family with younger sister Ashley making waves in the shorter distance of 800 and 1500 meters, ‘and is a mad surfer’. Joanna’s father has past connections with the Ocean Grove football club as both a player and a thrice premiership-winning team selector. Joanna prefers the 5K and cross-country distances. She laughs that her Melbourne friends rave about ‘The Tan’. ‘I think it is nothing compared to running around Barwon Heads.’
On 19 April, Joanna will run the Sheepwash Classic, where she won the Junior in 2000 and the Women’s in 2001 (likewise for the Rip to River). ‘I just want to keep improving and enjoying, and my goal is to reach my full potential.’ It is a humble request rather than a mantra. After a good run, in hand with the satisfaction, Joanna is very appreciative just to be able to run and is grateful to the people who have supported her.
George Sheehan, a famous cardiologist and distance runner, once wrote that running is a child at play. ‘Play is something we would do for nothing, something that has meaning but no purpose,’ he wrote. For her, it is not important how far Joanna runs in a week or a minute, scientifically speaking. Running now resonates with a time when she ran for joy as a child, just to see how far she could go. This is a good way to run, as a compulsion but also as a support for all the other things in Joanna’s life, just as they support the running.
‘I am now running for all the right reasons,’ she says. Joanna glows with sun-drenched health, a golden hue of the one who survived and now lives facing sun.