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Johanna Garvin: marathon challenger

Johanna Garvin, 26, is an Australian woman who thrives on challenge. Her philosophy of “never say never” led her to become the first person to ever complete the World Marathon Challenge in a wheelchair.


Diagnosed with cerebral palsy (CP) at the age of one, earlier this year Johanna took part in the extreme sports adventure of completing 7 marathons on 7 continents in 7 days! Accompanied by experienced marathon runners, James Alderson and Steve Birnie, together they raised $75,000 for Cerebral Palsy Alliance (CPA) to go towards specialised equipment for people with CP.

The journey started in Novo (Antarctica); onto Cape Town (Africa); Perth (Australia); Dubai (Asia); Lisbon (Europe); followed by Cartagena (South America); finishing up in Miami.

Johanna described this incredible adventure as the work-out of her life. Her motivation to compete in the marathon was the opportunity to do something unusual and challenge public perceptions of people who have a disability, as well as to raise money for CPA; the organisation had supported her throughout her life.

“I can’t tell you what a difference this will make to the lives of young people living with cerebral palsy and I really mean that because I know from first-hand experience what a difference mobility equipment can make to someone’s life,” said Johanna.

Johanna said the marathon was tough and took her out of her comfort zone. From night marathons, traversing the labyrinth of steep laneways in Lisbon, navigating customs with masses of luggage, to travelling in Columbia in a truck riddled with bullets, the heat of Dubai and the chill of Antarctica, the whole experience gave her the self-confidence to do different things in life.

Many strings to her bow

As well as a breaking the record as the first wheelchair World Marathon competitor, Johanna’s achieved great heights in her career already.

Despite school teachers telling her parents that the HSC would be too hard for her, Johanna went on to complete school, and a Bachelor of Communications and Media, majoring in film and social justice at Sydney’s University of Notre Dame.

She co-wrote and directed a short film, The Milky Pop Kid that showed at the Sydney Film Festival 2018 as part of  Screenability. This program features films about and by people with disability in order to boost the industry participation of this under-represented group.

The film was so successful they received a highly commended award at the Events Cinema Australia Short Screenplay Award. Johanna said this film was a fantastic opportunity to talk about something she’s passionate about, to challenge herself and those around her, and to learn, while being mentored by a group of highly skilled professionals.

“The Milky Pop Kid talks about how actors at certain points in their career look for roles that will help them win Oscars, and able-bodied actors always win awards for portraying someone with a disability.”

“There’s been a long time that people with disabilities have been excluded, not only in the film industry. We’re some of the most under-represented people in the media,” explains Johanna.

What’s the next challenge for Johanna?

Johanna now works in communications for the NSW Government’s arts, screen and culture agency Create NSW and would love to make more films in the future and continue to work in the industry.

“In the future I am interested in making a diverse range of narratives, not just about disability, but about issues that challenge me and audiences to think differently about a whole range of social justice issues. I think that film is such a powerful medium to enact change.”

Johanna’s advice to other people with disability is “Don’t be afraid to take risks and push yourself out of your comfort zone and it is important to network.”