KOKODA PLANS: Glenn Azar from Adventure Professionals with Theodore RSL vice-president Noel Pope and event co-ordinator Ben O'Donnell.
KOKODA PLANS: Glenn Azar from Adventure Professionals with Theodore RSL vice-president Noel Pope and event co-ordinator Ben O'Donnell. Kathy Dumbleton

Locals get Kokoda spirit

WHEN returned serviceman and Theodore local Ben O'Donnell mentioned to Noel Pope, Theodore RSL vice-president, that he was doing the Kokoda Track on Anzac Day 2020, Mr Pope's interest was piqued.

Now they are planning an RSL Theodore community Anzac Day Kokoda trek.

"I announced that I was going to do Kokoda on Anzac Day next year and I asked if anyone wanted to come," Mr O'Donnell said. "And I've just been inundated.

"We've been doing Anzac Day for a long time and we said righto we are going to go somewhere else next year."

At least 23 community members of all ages will now head to Kokoda next year.

Mr O'Donnell has done the Kokoda trek twice before, through Mates for Mates which was run by Glenn Azar who operates Adventure Professionals.

However Mr O'Donnell has always done the trek with ex-military personnel.

And while this exercise will include some veterans, it will also involve members of the Theodore community, ranging in ages from 19 to 69.

Mr Azar has completed the Kokoda trek 77 times but he also has a background in adventure.

"We run trips to Everest base camp, Kilimanjaro, my daughter climbed Mount Everest twice. That's what we do."

Mr O'Donnell will co-ordinate the event and organise training for all participants.

"We will train here once a month. It will either be Rocky or here or we will get on the RSL bus and we will go and do hills."

Mr Azar's company also provides a training program for participants.

"My team ring them once a week 12 weeks out to see how they are going," he said. "We train people from all around Australia to do this trip."

Mr Azar's team, including himself, are ex-military.

Mr Azar is a registered nurse however his background in the army was helicopter evacuations.

"I was also a physical training instructor so preparing people for this all the time," he said. "We supply backpacks, sleeping bags and tents.

"They literally just have to turn up at the airport with their clothes and they are ready to go; we do the rest."

There is a certain fitness standardto be reached before participants are deemed ready to do the trek.

"We check that by testing throughout the process," Mr Azar said. "It's doing a 10k walk with a 10 kilo backpack and whatever time they do it in gives us an indication of where they are at."

Mr Pope also sees the benefits of this trek to bring local community members together who may also be struggling with mental health.

"Even now mental health is society wide, it's not just veterans, it's down to kids in school," Mr Pope said.

"Something like this can change a community."