Rev runs for refugees

nigel hanscampWhile most Uniting Church ministers spend their Sunday mornings preparing to lead a worship service, on Sunday 16 October Rev Nigel Hanscamp will be preparing to line up with more than 30,000 runners to complete the Melbourne Marathon.

Long-distance running is a relatively new past time for the Heathmont Uniting Church minister. Five years ago, while living in New Zealand, Nigel said he experienced a ‘wake-up call’ when his father suffered a heart attack and, not long after, one of his closest friends died.

“I would have been 45 at the time and decided I didn’t want to be in that position if I could help it so I started running,” Nigel said.

“I weighed about 95 kilos and my first run was 400 metres; that was as far as I could manage. I just kept going out and kept running and six months later I managed my way through my first half marathon (21 kilometres). And I have just progressed from there.”

As well as the obvious health benefits and the personal sense of accomplishment, Nigel said one of the unexpected benefits of running is the sense of community he enjoys with others who share his passion. While many people might think of running as a solitary pursuit, Nigel said the running clubs he belongs to attract people from a range of backgrounds. And all have their own reasons for running.

“The community is one of the biggest things that keeps me going,” Nigel said.

“When you’re out running you communicate and tell stories together. People open up. It’s a fairly vulnerable space so people talk about themselves. Because you are struggling through something together, either long distance on the flat or longer distance on the hills – there’s a sense of bonding that comes with that that creates quite a community. One of the things I am interested in is the stories that people tell about why they are doing this.”

The connection between physical health and spiritual and mental wellbeing is something Nigel will pursue when he takes study leave later this year. He said whether it is running, arts or some other pursuit, the sense of accomplishment and being part of a community has enormous health benefits.

As the countdown begins in earnest to this year’s marathon, Nigel said he is grateful for the support of his family, friends and his congregation for their support.

“I talk about it being an individual sport but not a solo one, you never finish a marathon alone,” he said.

“My family put up with a heck of a lot for me to be able to. So when they’re standing on the top of Mt Macedon in minus five degrees (as they were in May this year) you realise there is a community behind you that have got you to this point.”

Fundraising has become part of many running events. Nigel has joined Lentara UnitingCare’s “Run as One” team to raise funds for asylum seekers.  The plight of refugees and asylum seekers is close to the heart of his congregation, who have generously supported his run. Nigel has a personal understanding of how difficult it can be arriving in a new country, having migrated from New Zealand a few years ago.

“I know what it’s like to land in a country and be nobody. For those first four weeks as a new migrant if you don’t have a driver’s licence or a bank account number it actually subtracts from your identity in terms of the government and the systems. So you wander around finding as much as you can to give yourself a basic identity.

“For a refugee whose language is different, who doesn’t know the culture and who is struggling with the trauma of getting here in the first place, whether they have come by boat or plane, and the struggle of  not knowing whether you will be accepted or not, it’s just amazing.”

To learn more about Nigel’s marathon journey and fundraising efforts for Lentara’s Asylum Seeker project go to:  or

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