Kokoda Youth Leadership Challenge
The Footsteps of Heroes….
“The courage and endurance our soldiers displayed in the face of adversity has inspired me and assured me that despite the odd setback, I too can face any challenge in my life.”
Mikaela – Penrith RSL Club staff member
Kokoda Youth Leadership Challenge. The Footsteps of Heroes…. I was recently given the opportunity to participate in the Kokoda Youth Leadership Challenge as the club representative for Penrith RSL. Along with 14 other club industry members from RSL and associated clubs across the state, I hiked the 155km long Kokoda trail over 9 days during August of 2016.
When I set out to hike the Kokoda trail I did so looking for an adventure and a challenge. Primarily I saw it as an opportunity to push myself to my physical limits on one of the world’s most challenging trails. Secondary to this I hoped to gain a greater knowledge about the Kokoda trail campaign of 1942. What I didn’t foresee was the lasting emotional and spiritual impact the experience would have upon me.
The physical challenge definitely didn’t disappoint. The term flat ground seems to become a fantasy when spending each day climbing up and down terrain so steep that I felt more like a rock climber than a hiker. I performed regular acts of contortionism to navigate the huge root systems on near vertical slopes whilst the slippery clay ground constantly threatens to sweep my feet out from beneath me. The constant humidity taught me to see dryness as a luxury to be appreciated as everything I owned gained a state of constant dampness. The physical challenge certainly lived up to its gruelling reputation, however, this was overshadowed by the unexpected emotional and spiritual challenges I faced as each day’s adventure revealed more of the past.
Walking in the footsteps of our diggers was one of the most powerfully emotional experiences that I have had. Listening to accounts of the hardships and challenges that they faced allowed me to appreciate their amazing acts on a level I didn’t think possible. All along the trail places of significance were pointed out where our troops engaged in armed conflict with little food, supplies, and rest. The guides told stories of the sacrifices and losses endured by individual soldiers and the incredible bravery that it took for them not to give up. They told stories of the PNG locals who guided so many of our soldiers and helped our wounded to safety. Incredibly, many of the young men were my age or even younger than me; and to know that they fought so hard and showed so much courage in protecting our country makes me feel tremendously grateful and proud.
Walking the Kokoda trail was truly a once in a lifetime opportunity. The demands of the terrain and the gut-wrenching stories of the soldiers who fought for us left me raw, humble and awed. I learned so much about myself and I realised that people are a lot stronger and tougher than they realise. I have confidence knowing that there is nothing that I can’t achieve and no hardship I can’t overcome. The courage and endurance our soldiers displayed in the face of adversity has inspired me and assured me that despite the odd setback, I too can face any challenge in my life.
Mikaela – Penrith RSL Club staff member &
Kokoda Youth Leadership Challenge, Club Industry Trek Participant.