By Casey Neill
“I never thought that running could be my vehicle for social change.”
But Samantha Gash turned competing in endurance events into a way to support education in vulnerable communities around the world.
“Running is now the least important part of what I do,” she said.
The 33-year-old from Kalorama spoke at the SEBN and Greater Dandenong Chamber of Commerce International Women’s Day celebration at Highways in Springvale on Friday 9 March.
SEBN manager Sandra George said the Life Beyond Your Comfort Zone event was “very much about inspiration and empowerment”.
Ms Gash, who grew up in Narre Warren North, is a lawyer by trade who’s spent the past six years an enduro athlete.
She’s a far cry from her 12-year-old self, who dreaded the school yard pick for sports teams as she invariably ended up in the final two.
“I didn’t realise what an impact that had on my life,” she said.
“Often I didn’t like to try things when I didn’t know what the outcome was.”
Ms Gash became anxious about “the unknown zone” but found a quote that launched her into action: “If you want something you’ve never had, you’ve got to do something you’ve never done.”
She thought about what daunted her most, and landed on those childhood memories of struggling on the sports field.
Ms Gash decided she’d run a marathon.
She’d never even taken on a fun run, but figured that what she lacked in physical experience she’d make up for in diligence and subscribed to an 18-week training program.
Finishing her first marathon was a rush. She followed it up by Googling new challenges, found the world’s toughest endurance race and signed up for the 250km journey.
She was still recovering from a badly twisted ankle when she crossed the start line but walked while others ran, determined just to keep one foot in front of the other.
She overtook others who peaked too early and finished first in her age group.
Ms Gash, now 38 weeks pregnant with her first child, also spoke about the time a man dragged her into bushes on a roadside during a run and tried to sexually assault her.
The sound of an approaching motorbike scared him away and she fled to a checkpoint, 45 minutes away.
A tearful Ms Gash regathered her determination and returned to the track to finish.
“I didn’t want someone that I will never meet again to control my future,” she said.
She didn’t want to return home without running those final seven kilometres.
“We are not defined by the things that happen to us,” she said.
“We are more defined by how we react in those moments.”