Overcoming challenges is nothing new for Justine Babitsch.
She's cheated death more than once, and as a parent, she continues to face emotional hurdles that would understandably wear down even the most mentally tough mother.
Justine is not one to complain or ponder what might have been. Instead, she's set herself another challenge to overcome. A challenge not just for her own benefit.
On Saturday, Justine, who celebrates her 48th birthday later this month, will attempt to complete her first marathon.
Running 42km is quite an achievement for anyone, but the story behind Justine's quest makes her effort even more remarkable.
Justine is a single mother of four children - two of whom have disabilities.
"My 15-year-old daughter was born with bilateral talipes,'' Justine said.
"Her feet were basically back to front and she's been a patient at Royal Children's Hospital since birth.
"My 11-year-old has mental disabilities and they're both on the NDIS. It's really challenging sometimes and very difficult."
Two-and-a-half years ago, Justine couldn't run around her block.
The single mother spent her time juggling work with caring for her children.
"Righteous Pups started a fundraiser for my daughter for an assistance dog for her autism,'' Justine said.
"Righteous Pups did a 5km fun run that was hosted by the Bendigo Athletic Club. I had to walk the 5km because I couldn't run. I was so unfit and so overweight.
"The Bendigo Athletic Club was there to promote the club and their motto was 'run for health, fun and fitness'. That's what got me to join.
"That was April, 2019. I couldn't run 800m at the time."
That day was the start of a journey that Justine never thought was possible.
"The running was so good for my soul,'' she said.
"It gave me purpose, motivation, inspiration and I've lost nearly 30kg. I'm more confident now and I've made friends for life through the club.
"I'm mentally stronger and it's ignited life into me."
Training for a marathon is no easy task. It takes time, dedication and discipline.
Justine's passion for running means the dedication and discipline side of it is not hard.
However, when you're a single mum of four kids, and you're working, time is a major issue.
"Rain, hail or shine I make time to run,'' she said.
"It doesn't matter if it's AM or PM or if I have to run in the dark.
"I've tried to include the children in it as much as I can. They now have bikes and they ride as often as they can which means I don't have to rely on a babysitter.
"I also couldn't do it without the support of my family and friends.
"It is hard juggling work and the kids, but I don't let being time poor become an excuse."
To get the full understanding of Justine's courage and determination, you need to wind the clock back the best part of 27 years.
When Justine was 21 she underwent life-saving open-heart surgery.
"I was told to prepare a will and say goodbye to my family,'' Justine said.
"I had a hole in my heart which I didn't know about. I had an eight-hour operation and they had to keep my heart alive for 45 minutes via a machine.
"I'm lucky to be here, I guess. I'll never forget the feeling of waking up after that operation. It's hard to put in words."
"After all that, running has become medicine for my soul. It clicked with me and I just love it."Justine Babitsch
Four years later, Justine faced another life-threatening health scare when she was found to have a malignant melanoma.
"I was treated down at the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre in Melbourne,'' she said.
"I was lucky the doctors diagnosed it early enough and I was okay. I was given counselling about whether I'd be able to have children or not and, thankfully, it didn't interfere with me having children."
Two years later, Justine dodged another bullet.
"When I gave birth to my son my organs wanted to shut down and I got really sick,'' she said.
"I've had a few challenges to get through, but that's the way life goes sometimes.
"After all that, running has become medicine for my soul. It clicked with me and I just love it."
Justine's original plan was to run the Gold Coast half-marathon in July, but that event was cancelled because of COVID-19.
Not to be deterred, Justine took the plunge and ran 21km for the first time.
"I did the entire 21km around Lake Weeroona,'' she said.
"It was freezing cold and I couldn't feel my hands or feet by the end of it.
"After getting through that I thought I'd have a crack at a marathon.
"The Melbourne Marathon was meant to be this weekend, but was pushed back to December. I was worried about how hot it would be and I was worried my body wouldn't handle it, so I decided to run it this weekend in Bendigo by myself."
Justine's goal on Saturday is to not only complete a marathon, but raise money for a cause dear to her heart - Reclink Australia, a non-for profit organisation that provides sport and art programs to disadvantaged Australians to create socially inclusive, life-changing opportunities.
Justine wants to raise $1000 for sporting equipment for children with a disability.
"Paddy McCarthy (from Bendigo Athletic Club) works for Reclink and through his encouragement I decided to raise money for Reclink Australia,'' Justine said.
"We're trying to raise $1000 for sporting equipment for disadvantaged children.
"The easiest way to donate is to go to the Bendigo Athletic Club Facebook page and there's links to a gofundme page there.
"Hopefully, we can reach our target."
"If people want to come down and have a look, or grab a coffee and walk some laps and encourage me, they can do that."Justine Babitsch
Justine has her 1980s music playlist locked and loaded for Saturday's run, which will start in Kangaroo Flat and finish at Lake Weeroona.
Any encouragement from locals along the way would be greatly appreciated.
"I have a 20km course from my house around Crusoe Reservoir and that way the kids can follow me on their bikes for the first 20km or so,'' Justine said.
"From Crusoe, I'll get on the bike track at Furness Street and run down to Lake Weeroona. I should get to the 32km mark by the time I get to the lake.
"Had I been doing the Melbourne Marathon I would have finished with a lap of the MCG, so instead I'll do the final 10km around Lake Weeroona.
"If people want to come down and have a look, or grab a coffee and walk some laps and encourage me, they can do that.
"I'm starting at 8.30am and I reckon I'll be at Lake Weeroona about 12.30pm. I reckon the whole thing will take me about five hours.
"The time really doesn't worry me. I'll hit start on my watch when I start and then not look at it again."
No matter what happens on Saturday, Justine's story is quite remarkable.
She's too humble to acknowledge that her actions as a mother are inspirational, let alone what she's done with her running campaign, but she did have one piece of advice for those who have pondered taking up athletics.
"If I can, anyone can, it's just one step at a time."
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