Bundaberg walkers Neil Wex and Mick Lay (centre) after crossing the finish line at the Oxfam Trailwalker event.
Bundaberg walkers Neil Wex and Mick Lay (centre) after crossing the finish line at the Oxfam Trailwalker event.

Walk for charity bonds mates

MATESHIP – it’s the reason Neil Wex put one foot in front of the other over a 100km stretch that tested his physical and mental grit.

Neil, 72, trained for six months in the lead-up to the Oxfam Trailwalker event in Brisbane last month, roping in six others to form teams of four and three. It was the first time he had attempted something like this and his reasoning was simple.

Neil wished to raise the profile of a welfare program being run by his good mate Mick Lay for ex-servicemen and women as part of the local RSL Sub Branch. The program isn’t just for war veterans, but any ex-serving members who want to connect with others.

“It’s a difficult transition from the military to the civilian world,” Mick, who served 20 years in the army in Afghanistan, Iraq and East Timor, said.

“We have our own language, people don’t tend to understand.”

The program has 1046 members and is subsidised by the government but relies heavily on volunteers and contributions.

Members meet regularly, sometimes for personal training sessions, bus trips, and even happy hour.

Neil’s other reasons for joining up to walk were a little more obvious – to get fit and lose weight, which he did by a tidy 3kg.

The two groups started with small walks around Mon Repos and Bargara where it’s relatively flat. They graduated to the Hummock and then extended the distance, taking in Ring Rd. The first mountain they climbed was Mt Goonaneman, near Biggenden.

“A few of us thought it would be quite easy,” Neil joked.

From their campsite it was 11km to the top and 22km return, which took the group roughly four hours to complete. When this felt comfortable they decided to make a weekend out of it, trekking up and down the mountain four times, all the while bonding over jokes and developing a camaraderie that will stay with them for life.

When it was time for the main event, the group was more than ready.

The seven walkers had three support staff to get them through the tough times and offer hot drinks when needed.

“We relied on each other,” Mick said.

“We knew we’d each have a down time on the walk ... we knew what people’s tells were, we could keep an eye on each other, keep going,” Neil said.

“You don’t want to let your team down.”

The walk, which began at 7am at Lake Manchester in Brisbane and was mostly steep, rocky terrain, took Neil and his mates 27 hours and seven minutes.

“I felt a sense of relief and achievement and a sense of well-being,” Neil said of reaching the finishing line.

“We’ll certainly do something like this next year that challenges us physically and mentally,” Mick said, not ruling out Kokoda.

Neil’s team raised $1700 and Mick’s $1400.

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