Window into a Kokoda Kid's World: Part 2
Instalment Two: Looking back on the Kokoda Challenge
The Kokoda Challenge was the Kokoda Kids’ testing grounds. It measured in kilometres, crested mountains peaks, crossed creek-beds, blistered heels, and burning lungs their physical, psychological and social development.
Whether they made the full 96 kilometres or not was beside the point. They were beginning to see themselves in terms of potential, service, self-respect; as an important cog within a team. Not so long ago many of them only saw themselves in terms of personal limitations.
The girl who had once struggled up the two kilometre track behind Polly’s Kitchen completed 60 kilometres before injury and respiratory difficulties made it necessary for her to pull out.
“Personally I’m proud of my achievement,” says Jane. “Even though I didn't complete the Challenge, I pushed as hard as I could. Still, it was hard to give myself permission to stop. I had to convince myself that I wasn't abandoning the team; that I had to do what was best for me. Seeing them at the finish line, fighting to complete the steps and wishing to just hurry up and finish, I knew honestly that I would have slowed them down more than they could have handled in their fatigue. It just makes me so determined to walk the track in Papua New Guinea!”
Jane marvels at the spirit her team displayed and has nothing but gratitude for the support team who gave them warm welcomes, hot food, fresh socks and a new burst of inspiration every time they came to checkpoints. “The team kept one another going and even although spirits started dropping early Saturday morning, there were still smiles and small bursts of energy walking into the manned checkpoints.”
At a time when it might have been easier to give up due to their shared misery, Jane says that she kept going because she knew that others were experiencing just as much – sometimes more – pain and hardship than she was. “But they kept pushing on, so I knew I could too.”
It was the thought of the soldiers who had to do the same – with heavier packs, with support unable to reach them, with brothers-in-arms dying around them and with the psychological impact of taking other lives. All this spurred her on beyond the limits of exhaustion.
“It made me want to make my great uncle and granddaddy who served in the Korean War and Light Horse Brigade, proud,” she said. “The way my dad smiled, welcomed, fussed over me, I knew I hadn’t disappoint him. He saw that I pushed my limits and he couldn’t be happier with me.”
Jane recalls how the team particularly suffered at around midnight on the Saturday night after leaving the warmth and encouragement of the support crew behind. Despite the hot meal and the brightness of fresh glow sticks to identify their walking partners on the track, they hit a sudden low. “We all just pushed on in silence. Just being beside each other and doing the same thing together kept us sane.”
Jane says she derived particular comfort from a teammate she’d become particularly close to. “She was full of life and spirit and it was extremely contagious,” said Jane. But there was also a time when they were both were struggling: “No words were needed between us. At one point, all we could do was hold hands as we made our way up an enormous hill. I'm so glad I had her support!”
Jane explains how important it was to do this as a team and how they engaged in conversations with other competitors, wishing them luck and thanking them for their support. “The other teams showered us with praise, and we were able to push further because of it. It emphasised a sense of togetherness. We were all in this together. All fighting for the same goal.”
There is no doubt that team Kokoda Kids have proved the African proverb, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”
They have certainly come a very long way!
*Jane is a past Kokoda Kid and this name is a pseudonym.
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