Don Does the Kokoda Track for Mental Health Research

The journey to achieving this goal actually started in 2000 when, as a dairy farmer, I had an accident that caused a severe break and significant damage to my right ankle and lower leg, the injury is called a “Maisonneuve fracture”.

I spent periods of time over the next 2 years in a wheelchair to prevent further damage and complications. The normal procedure to repair this is an operation that fuses the ankle making is completely rigid but fortunately for me I was eventually referred to a Melbourne based specialist who designed a procedure which he then carried out on my ankle as a first and experimental treatment to repair and return functionality. Post op was 6 months of very limited mobility and a lot of rest to allow the new graft to achieve full strength and then progressive rehabilitation to return functionality. The result for me and for the Orthopaedic Surgeon has far surpassed any of our expectations and I have almost full function of the ankle.

With this result I then needed to continue to improve my physical fitness and over all well-being and maintain it. My Orthopaedic Surgeon is a cyclist and suggested I by a bicycle and start to ride it to improve my keg fitness, I did that in 2005 which has been one of the best decisions I have made, and I joined Health Culture to do strength and physique training.

I also retrained professionally and changed careers under advice that it would be better with less of the physical stress that farming requires, working with farm families and rural communities including with issues around mental health.

I didn’t know it then, but this also proved to be a great change and the challenge of the Kokoda Track crept into my mind, could I actually do it??? If so, it would be before 2020 and my 60th birthday and to raise money for Australian Rotary Health for Mental Health research.

Fast Forward to 2019, I am now 59 and the subject of Kokoda was being talked over, let’s try so I booked with Kokoda Tribute. I am generally physically fit due to the regular bike riding and workouts so training would continue to maintain stamina and fitness, but I would need to transition off the bike into walking up steep hills and down them carrying a weighted backpack to condition my body.

I tackled the summit of Kosciuszko, Arthurs Seat and found a nice little track in the Baranduda Range for a few regular walks.

The 21 July came quickly and I was on my way to Port Moresby via Brisbane and on the 23 July at 8.30 am with 7 other trekkers in the group, we left Ower’s Corner to walk from the south heading up the track to the north which is the direction the Australian Troops advanced during World War 2. The Kokoda Track or Trail is in itself about 96 km’s long. It was a very demanding physical and mental challenge, one that you can only understand through experience.

It was educational in understanding the war effort by our Australian troops and was really the Australians theatre of war in World War 2. When visiting some of the iconic memorial sights on the track such as Brigade Hill, Conns Rock and the recently discovered “Jap Track” you can feel the souls of the soldiers that gave their lives for our freedom and a visit to the which adds so much more meaning to the memorial service at the Isurava memorial and the Bomana War Cemetery.

I trekked almost 130 kms in all as I included visits to extra war sights of Myola 1 and Myola 2 (an extra 3 hour or so walk) and Bombers Camp and the “Jap Track area” which are off the Track, arriving in to Kokoda Village on 31 July.

This wasn’t the final leg though as there is a Public Motor Vehicle (truck) ride across a very rough gravel road from Kokoda village to Pompondetta which take about 4 hours, 2 am to 6 am and then the flight back to Port Moresby.

Walking Kokoda was a goal and by far one of the hardest to achieve but I do not regret one second of it. I was exhausted when I arrived home as it is effectively walking a marathon every day for 8 days. The end result was to raise $5000 for Australian Rotary Health which we have done and are almost at $6000 and I could not have achieved any of it without the total committed support of my wife Wendy and the generosity of all who have made a financial donation, thank you. Don