Marathon great Rob de Castella came home from a coastal trip to found he'd lost everything.
Gone was his family's memorabilia, books his great-grandfather had written, first manuscripts and the furniture he'd made by hand. Gone were his family photos. And gone were the medals he'd won.
His family were one of 500 who lost their homes in the devastating firestorm of 2003, a trauma he says many still struggle with to this day.
Although his Chapman house was burned to blackened bricks, the running legend looks back and sees a glimmer of light in Canberra's darkest day.
"It made me realise, after those fires, that we are not the material things we accumulate through our lives. We are the connection with our families, friends and community," de Castella said.
"That's what makes us strong and the most significant thing is when we do have times in our lives - and we all will have times in our lives - when we get tested.
"It's not the material things you've accumulated that are going to get you through those times, it's the connections you have."
De Castella, who was a member of the Bushfire Recovery Taskforce, co-founded the Stromlo Running Festival in memory of the Canberra bushfires in 2009.
The annual trail-running event received an exemption from the ACT government to host 1800 participants this year, a record turnout in its 11-year history.
The modified festival will take place over the weekend, with the 30 and 50-kilometre events scheduled for Saturday and the 10-kilometre race for Sunday.
De Castella, a two-time Commonwealth Games champion, is proud the Stromlo Running Festival is going ahead this year and says it's important for the community to commemorate the 2003 tragedy.
"It's really vital that we don't forget," de Castella said.
"It's easy sometimes because our Australian community is so resilient and there's a tendency for us to move on fairly quickly from one national or local disaster to another. All too quickly we forget about the trauma and the struggle people are still living with.
"We are a nation of extremes. It's challenging but it also gives us an opportunity to rise to those challenges, but we should never forget there's a lot of people still battling.
"That's what I wanted the Stromlo Running Festival to acknowledge, that is hard. There's a lot of people still battling but we're strong and have an incredible capacity to rise to challenges as individuals and as a community.
"The 30-kilometre and 50-kilometre, we call them the 'lightning strike' runs because that's what started the fires in 2003 - the fire strikes in the Brindabellas. The hills of Stromlo test us, they test us physically but also our spirit - just like life does."
The Stromlo Running Festival has also continued its support of the Indigenous Marathon Foundation, raising $5000 in participant donations for the charity this year.
The funds will be used to provide scholarships and grants to the graduates of the de Castella-run Indigenous Marathon Project, which is in its 11th year.
"We say the finish line of the marathon is the start line," de Castella said.
"We have 108 graduates who have already started out on a journey to drive change and make a difference for their families, themselves and their communities.
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"These funds will be used to provide them with scholarships, grants and opportunities to step up and start their own businesses, running programs or do further studies - to continue to drive change."
The programme usually culminates in its participants competing in the New York marathon, but due to the global COVID-19 pandemic it's been based solely within Australia this year.
Even that had its struggles, with state-border closures, restrictions and the cancellation of running events forcing de Castella to train his squad remotely and online.
Twelve athletes ran a midnight marathon at Alice Springs earlier this month and Ethan Mulholland will compete in the Stromlo 50-kilometre event on Saturday.
"The program has tested us more than ever, it's been really tough for the squad but most of them have risen to that challenge. We do what we do, because it's hard," de Castella said.