Beads of sweat pouring from every orifice of your body, dense jungle all around you and the incessant buzz of surrounding mosquitoes; the Kokoda Track in Papua New Guinea is no walk in the park, at least it wasn’t before isolation. Now the Kokoda Youth Foundation are giving people the opportunity to get a taste of what it’s like to walk the Kokoda Track from home.
When the Kokoda Youth Foundation found out that mass gatherings would be banned as a result of the spread of COVID-19, they were forced to make a difficult decision to cancel all their events in Brisbane, Gold Coast and Melbourne. Being a registered charity that relies on the donations raised from these events to run the Kokoda Challenge Youth Programs, they had no choice but to think laterally, which is where the idea of the Kokoda Virtual Challenge arose.
Rather than walk the gruelling 96kms in 39 hours through the Gold Coast Hinterland in July (when the event was initially scheduled to take place), The Kokoda Youth Foundation has now given competitors the opportunity to walk, hike or run 96kms in the month of May. “96kms is the length of the Kokoda Track in Papua New Guinea and it is our mission to educate Australians about the incredible history that took place along that track” says Chairman Doug Henderson who served during the Vietnam War as a medic.
This decision was made after a particularly moving ANZAC Day at Home Dawn Service where many members of the Kokoda community flooded their social media feeds with footage of themselves paying respects to our ANZACs on their driveway.
“We realised that we have a responsibility to keep our Kokoda community together and make sure that everyone is staying both physically and mentally healthy during isolation” says Chief Operations Office Johllene Elson. “There is no registration fee and participants aren’t required to raise any funds like they typically would if they were participating in the real event.”
Although donations aren’t required, the Kokoda Youth Foundation have been overwhelmed with the generosity of the community; “we have raised almost three thousand dollars in three days over the long weekend despite there being no fundraising obligation whatsoever” says Johllene, “it’s been truly moving.”
It’s not too late to register but you’d want to do so quickly as the Kokoda Virtual Challenge will end on the 31st of May and participants will have to complete 96kms or 48kms before then. “Some of our competitors have already completed the Kokoda Virtual Challenge” says Doug. One of those being his beloved wife Anna who walked around Emerald Lakes a whopping twenty-two times despite a pre-existing health condition leaving her with only 20% of her lung capacity.
All donations go directly towards the Kokoda Challenge Youth Program where kids between the age of 15-17 participate in a 14-month life skills program where they are required to complete community service, learn about the history of Kokoda and partake in weekly training in preparation to walk the real Kokoda Track in Papua New Guinea, an experience which many of the Kokoda Kids have said completely changed their lives.