I very rarely have a “plan” and many of my friends find it a nightmare to schedule anything with me but I like it that way. I’m a firm believer in if the stars align, then it’s meant to be. So when Brad Wilkie asked me if I was up for a 70km run through the Australian bush that would be supported by the outdoor store where I work, Wild Earth (cherish employers that believe in your insane ideas), I said why not!
Crazy times call for crazy adventures and without traditional races to look forward to, one has to be creative to stay connected to the real reasons why we run. This adventure was the brainchild of Brad who roughly marked the “course” which more or less followed the Queensland/New South Wales border. The plan was to start at O’Reilly’s Rainforest and finish at Elephant Rock in Currumbin with a couple of checkpoints along the way where our support crew would meet us with fuel. From mountain summit to ocean. As it often happens with plans, the path that presents itself isn’t usually the one that you intended on taking but that’s the beauty of life.
Six dads embarked on the impromptu trail run together which turned out to be one of the most unifying experiences I could have ever imagined. The run turned out to be less actual running and more about physically maneuvering our way through the untamed wilderness. This was not a manicured trail that tourists visit to take a picture of a cute koala — our limbs were relentlessly scratched and attacked by the bush, a testament of how savage this route was. One section of the trail was so technical (up and down and through caves) it took us 59 minutes to do only 1km! I wouldn’t be surprised if we were the first humans who have ever made contact with this remote and wild part of the world. Similar to Jurassic Park, we did our best to avoid stepping on any deadly snakes but spiders and their webs were sometimes unavoidable. It wouldn’t be a true Australian adventure without spotting at least one python, thankfully he did his thing and we passed by him peacefully.
Running on only two hours of sleep, we missed the support crew at the third checkpoint which wasn’t surprising with the number of wrong turns we kept on mistakenly taking. Rather than letting our thirst and hunger get the best of us, we emptied our pockets to see what gels and water remained between the six of us and divided it up to ensure we each had enough sustenance to carry us over the next 25km. In that moment we felt so much more like a band of brothers than individuals doing an ultra marathon. Together we navigated through waterfalls, caves, and vertical inclines and each member of our little family was integral to getting us to the finish line after 18 hours of running.
I’ve always been an active person and it wasn’t until about ten years ago that I was introduced to running. Prior to my love affair with running, I was much more heavily invested in surfing. My body took a nasty fall on a wave and I hit my back on a bank but in typical surfer fashion, I shrugged it off as nothing. When the pain intensified, I eventually got it looked at by a doctor who told me I had Guillain-Barre syndrome. Not familiar with that diagnosis, the doctor explained that it’s a rare disorder where the immune system attacks the body’s nerves, and it would deteriorate to the point where I would never be able to walk again. I was instantly filled with a range of intense emotions – I couldn’t believe what I had heard.
I’ve gone through life with a glass-half full perspective which was the saving grace during this period in my life. If angels do exist, I was blessed with having a physiotherapist who was persistent and determined that I would walk again. After one year of intensive therapy, I was able to put one foot in front of the other and walk without any assistance. The road ahead started to look brighter and I made a promise to myself that I would work towards my former athleticism. I committed to another year of daily physio sessions at the hospital to keep the momentum going. I am where I am today from my mental and physical perseverance to overcome.
Sport has positively changed my life in so many ways and it continues to revitalize and inspire me. I’ve been lucky to have been able to give back to others through pacing and cheering; I find that there is no greater joy than being able to help others achieve their goals.
A quote that guides how I live my life is “listen more than you talk.” Learning from others is so important and I’m so grateful for the running community that proves that greatness can be achieved when people work together. Like anything in life, I have off running days but I take heart in the process and know that hard work always pays off.
Like all things in life, it takes a village to make these types of adventures a reality. I’m a firm believer in practicing daily gratitude so I must give a huge word of thanks to Jimmy Black, the owner of Wild Earth and Chris Summerville who sponsored this crazy adventure. To our team of runners, Brad Wilkie, Sam Weir, Kieron Douglas, Scotty Page, and Ben Southall — I couldn’t have done it without you mates! And of course, thank you to our fearless support crew and the man behind the lens who made sure everything was documented for better or for worse, Nathan McNeil.
To anyone just starting out on their running journey, my advice to you is to enjoy the highs and lows, be patient with yourself and know that there are no shortcuts. Live each day with a heart full of gratitude. Namaste.