Challenge Wanaka marathon – why I’m doing it for Dad


A father’s cancer battle is the focus for a gutsy Queenstowner pushing through the pain of her first marathon on Saturday. 

Sarah Russell – whose Challenge Wanaka, three-woman team is called ‘Race 4 A Reason’ – says: “The pain I’m going through is nothing compared to the pain my father goes through. 

“Dad is not well and has cancer so my team is racing hard for him.” 

Graeme Russell, 65, has been a well-known local blocklayer for the past 20 years. 

He folded his business several months ago after being diagnosed with asbestos cancer. 

Sarah says he’s surviving on one and a half lungs – and that the side-effects from recent chemotherapy and radiation treatments have “knocked him for six”. 

“We had a horrible Christmas – dad’s been in hospital. 

“From the strong, active man he was, it’s so sad to see my dad, when he was about to enjoy his retirement, get this illness and rob him of his enjoyment of life. 

“Dad has a lot to live for and has another grandson due any day.” 

Sarah, turning 36 on race day, and her teammates – swimmer Sheena Dunphy, 42, and cyclist Pauline Carter, 53 – were originally sponsored by local gym Pulse Fitness. 

However it got into financial strife then closed before Christmas. 

Sarah: “I said to the other girls, let’s just change our name to ‘Race 4 A Reason’ – primarily for my dad, but we’ve all got underlying reasons.” 

Sarah – who also lost her mother to bowel cancer 14 years ago – suspects her dad’s illness is a legacy from working on boilers and kilns round Balclutha, South Otago, many years ago. 

After commuting from Balclutha to Queenstown for work, Graeme shifted here in the early ’90s. 

Nicknamed ‘Gundy’ Russell, he worked on many major projects, including the Kawarau Falls Station development in recent years.