Interview with Samantha Gash

29 November 2016

Samantha is a keynote speaker at the Returned Australian Volunteer Network (RAVN) Conference

Samantha Gash has always had a thirst for adventure and a desire to make a difference in the world.

As an endurance athlete, Samantha has used running as a platform to advocate for social change around the world.

Her ambitious and determined nature is truly inspiring.

Ahead of the inaugural Returned Australian Volunteer Network (RAVN) conference, Samantha shares highlights from her journey and reveals her motivation to run for change.

Where has your adventurous spirit stemmed from?

I think your parents often instil these qualities in you. My parents are adventurous in the sense that when they were younger they cycled around Europe but they are not particularly active people in the sporting sense. I think what I have taken from my parents is their mindset. They are hardworking, incredibly resilient people. They deal with adversity in a productive way. They certainly have toughened me up as a person.

I have always loved the outdoors. I love being able to connect with different communities and explore different cultures that are far removed from the backdrop of my everyday life.

My running and the adventures I have gone on stem from my parents and my passion for the outdoors.

You are committed to advocating for social change and you have used running as a vehicle in achieving this. What led you to become so passionate about social change?

I have a background as a Corporate Lawyer. Although, the corporate side of it was not what I intended. Advocacy and awareness have definitely been part of my studies and career.

I think it's very powerful to be able to advocate for change and for something you are passionate about. Something that takes you to the rawest state of who you are.

Pushing my body and mind through endurance sport has often connected me, to a very small extent, to people who are vulnerable and going through challenging circumstances.

I also believe the power of education is not questionable. It can transform peoples lives. It is shocking to believe so many people around the world do not get the chance to have an education. It is something we take for granted. Travelling around the world I have seen children who would not normally have the chance to access education and I see their desire for it. I think, how can I not try and do something to allow them to have that chance?

How do you think running has helped you spread awareness on social issues?

I think it’s not just the running but the storytelling component of it. It is being willing to share that journey in an authentic and vulnerable manner. It’s not always easy to do. It is not always easy to show the challenges you are facing when you are trying to tackle something of a physical nature but I think by doing that people are more receptive to listening as to why I chose to do it. My recent project in India was the first time I really connected the link between running and exploring different communities I was running through.

You have visited many countries and you have participated in many events. What has been a highlight for you?

My recent trip running across India. It is still very raw. A highlight for me was to be invited into people's homes that are complete strangers and have the opportunity to ask them about their lives, their travels, their highlights and their fears.

The fact that running has given me that opportunity is what makes running so great for me.

Do you have a memorable person you have met on your adventures?

I met a lady called Sister Sudha when I ran through the state of Bihar. She is a woman in her late sixties and she has spent majority of her life advocating for the rights of those who are considered the 'untouchables', which is the lowest caste system in India.

She has worked with women to educate them about sexual violence and assault and has tried to create a voice for them when they normally would not have one.

I ran for 77 days on a project that took two years to work on. To watch someone who for their life has committed themselves to help others – that is really inspiring and has shown me what true commitment really is.

What challenges have you experienced with regard to your running?

Time is a huge challenge. On an everyday level it is that balance between finding the time to be able to run. Self-doubt can creep in, you wonder if your body is going to be able to handle it and if you have the capacity to do it. There are also logistical challenges at events.

What motivates you to continue to run for change?

When you do travel and have the opportunity to see the way so many people live it puts the struggle of running into great perspective. Running has been that form of continued learning for me. I have learnt a great deal through running in these types of environments. It has helped me gain a deeper understanding of my formal education.

Who has been your greatest inspiration?

I have so many people who inspire me in different capacities. I’m inspired by my parents for their mental toughness. I’m inspired by my friends. I think anyone who shows resilience and positivity despite challenge inspires me to push through my own. I don’t think there has to be any one person who inspires you. It is a series of people who you interact with on a daily basis.

What advice would you give a returned volunteer wanting to continue to make a difference and follow a similar path to you?

Use what you are good at to affect the thing you care about. You don’t have to run across a country to make a change – that just works for me. Do what makes sense to you. Creating change is not an easy task but if you conduct yourself in an authentic manner, that is what will connect people to want to assist you on that journey.

Do you have any advice for young women and their expectations to achieving goals?

Don’t place limitations on what you can achieve. Your chance of success is no different to anyone else. Sometimes I think limitations are the ones we create ourselves. We can say that because we are women things are harder and I can tell you running across India as a foreign women there were so may reasons why that project was going to be challenging if not impossible at times. You can’t let your gender be a reason you don’t try something and you don’t believe you can do it.

Samantha will be sharing more about her journey as a keynote speaker at the inaugural RAVN conference on Sunday, December 4. Valuing Volunteers – Bridge Builders & Change Makers will be held at Etihad Stadium in Melbourne on 3 and 4 December.

Samantha Gash meets a group of women from a community that World Vision works with in Pauri. Funds raised from Run India will support World Vision’s Area Development Projects in this region. Credit: Lyndon Marceau
Last Updated: 29 November 2016