November 5th 2018 – Walking Kokoda Without a Hip

November 5th 2018 – Walking Kokoda Without a Hip

Some of you may have thought at one point or another, why is Adam doing this crazy challenge? I’ll be honest with you, at first I didn’t know. The thought never crossed my mind before I was asked point blank. In the past, I daydreamed about what it might be like to walk Mt. Kilimanjaro or Everest. Kokoda never even crossed my mind. When you’re unable to walk longer than 500 meters without being severe pain, those ideas are nothing but a fantasy, a dream. Like ending starvation in third-world countries or switching to renewable energy globally or world peace – I didn’t expect it to happen in my lifetime.

I want to shed some light on the backstory. In 2010 I moved to the University of Arizona to study an undergraduate degree as well as play for the college wheelchair tennis team, The Wildcats! It wasn’t long after I arrived that I realised that the campus was simply too big for me to walk around. To get from one class to the other involved walking significant distances and by about 2pm in the afternoon, I was spent. A friend on the team suggested that I get a wheelchair for everyday life, an option that I had never considered because I could walk, why would I go into a chair? I can be a bit stubborn sometimes but I looked into it and I’m glad I did.

From the first day I used it, I realised that this was a game changer. No longer did I have to walk across campus in agony. No longer did I arrive at class late and be lost for the rest of the class. Most importantly, no longer did I feel exhausted by 2pm because the pain had taken its toll on my energy. Game changer. I still walked short distances around campus and on days that my arms were sore from tennis or gym training, but my main mode of transport had changed and despite the challenges of getting used to being shorter than everyone, I loved it.

The wheelchair remained as my main mode of transport for almost 7 years until August 2017. I used it any time I had to walk longer than a few hundred meters. I still walked around my house, generally without a cane but with a big limp. When I drove somewhere, I always spent extra time to get the closest parking possible so that I only had to walk a short distance instead of getting my wheelchair out of the car. There was a rare exception that I felt like walking somewhere or when wheelchair accessibility wasn’t the greatest. This didn’t happen often, the mood had to be right and inevitably, I would pay for it the next day, or even a few days, with elevated pain.

Fifteen years of chronic pain didn’t stop me from living my life but it certainly did limit me in certain ways. Being around people on the wheelchair tennis tour who couldn’t walk at all gave me an amazing perspective and I was grateful to be able to walk any distance at all.

I learned to deal with the pain using a “mind over matter” approach which was very beneficial as an athlete. My will to get things done was huge and I wasn’t going to let anything stand in my way. The mindset “no pain, no gain,” served me phenomenally. I accepted the reality at the time, which was that I would be in chronic pain for life. This meant I had to move forward despite it.

“The journey has many bumps, twists and turns. But one day you will reach your destination. You’ll know for sure then that it was all worth it. So keep on trusting and keep on walking. The end will be more glorious than you can imagine.” – Anusha Atukorala

Little did I know that there was another possibility. In December 2015 a friend introduced me to a movement teacher, Benny, who runs his business as the Movement Monk. He’s a bit of a modern-day monk, as I like to call him. Throughout my life and tennis career, I constantly sought after people who could give me an edge on the court. Within minutes of meeting Benny, I knew I had found my teacher. His method was cultivated over many years of his own practice as he overcame a severe back injury.

The practice uses breathing, awareness, and intention to observe and explore movement within the body. Tension release meditation and standing meditation were major components. As you can imagine, when I first started, standing meditation was extremely challenging. One of the intentions of the practice is to observe the sensations within the body without labelling them as positive or negative. Now when you’re standing and pain levels are increasing by the second, it’s a massive mental challenge, on top of the physical challenge, to feel the pain without judging it. Like anything, with time, practice and persistence it got easier to be present with whatever sensations and feelings arose.

Over a long period of time, the practice of holding a painful position started changing the experience of the pain. It was very gradual but as I leaned into the pain and got more used to it, while not judging or resisting it, it started to transform. By sticking with this practice for the last 3 years, my entire experience of the way I move through the world on my feet changed.

When I was asked to walk Kokoda it had only been 18 months of this practice. I’d seen a dramatic shift but I couldn’t have imagined the progress over the 18 months that followed.

Limitations are very much in the mind but they are also in the body. To make progress with this kind of challenge or any challenge, nothing can change if you don’t face it head on. It also takes a multi-faceted approach, as there is not one magical thing that will bring the desired outcome. Training for Kokoda started with walking 1km at a time and building from there, on top of my practice, I was eating an anti-inflammatory whole food diet and meditating everyday.

On the track itself, the biggest challenge, that I couldn’t emulate in training beforehand, was 8 back to back 15km+ days of walking up and down the steepest, slipperiest mountains I’d ever been on. All while carrying a 5kg+ backpack, sleeping in small tents on a blow-up mattress and eating more carbs in a day than I would normally eat in a month, with a very limited amount of protein. To keep it in perspective I reminded myself constantly that the diggers had it so much worse, with almost no food and at times very severe injuries, along with an enemy that could be lurking around any corner, waiting to kill them. This helped when times got tough.

One of the major benefits that came from training for the Kokoda Track was completely unexpected. I didn’t think it was possible so why would I expect it? In February 2018, after 6 months of training, the longest walk I had done was just over 11km. One morning while doing the standing meditation practice of observing feelings and sensations in my body I noticed that there was no pain. Yes, you’re reading that correctly. After 15 years of chronic pain, every single day, using no painkillers at all, suddenly I had no pain. It was unbelievable. I did all kinds of movements to see if I was just imagining it or if it was real. It was real.

Not everyday since then has been free of pain, while training there was plenty of it, believe me. Funnily enough I have a lot more discomfort while sitting these days due to missing bones in my hip. That being said, not too long ago I hardly ever walked anywhere and now I’m out of chronic pain and haven’t touched my wheelchair in 18 months. This has me thinking, what else is possible? I plan to continue my practices and see how far I can get. I also plan to start teaching others with walking difficulties, chronic pain or other physical restrictions how to start the journey towards moving with freedom and ease.

So why did I do it? To prove to myself that no matter what’s in front of me, I can move forward one step at a time and to show others that they can do the same.

October 29th – A Humbling Reminder of Why I Was There

October 29th – A Humbling Reminder of Why I Was There

Day 4 started like any other day, our Trek leader Rowan woke us up with his strong Aussie, ex-army voice telling us that it’s close enough to 5.15am, time to pack up the tent, check on the people next to you and then head to breakfast. Most mornings I woke up earlier so that I had time to do my movement practice, not this morning. As I sat up, I’d hit my head against the top of the tent, roll up my sleeping bag and mattress as quickly as possible, pack my porters bag and finally, pack my bag with everything I’d need for the days walk. By then it was almost light and I’d move slowly towards breakfast.

We were warned the previous night, this mornings walk is the steepest part of the trek and following that was another few hours of slightly less steep, but still steep walking. The first section is called ‘The Wall’ and for good reason. Any steeper and it would have been completely vertical. Many times it felt more like rock climbing than walking, Rani’s favourite, my nightmare. I started 15 minutes behind everyone else to complete my movement practice. I knew I’d need the extra stability and lightness that it unfailingly gave me. From where I did my practice I could see “The Wall” across the river, the team slowly made their way up and over. I knew that today was going to test all of us.

Time to get going, the start, particularly the first hour was always tough for me but today would be even more so because it went straight into a wall, literally. As I walked through the river, my porter (Oscar) casually waited for me. As he saw me a very slight, cheeky grin came over his face, he knows what I’m up against. Over the last few days we’ve bonded and built a foundation of trust. I know he’s there when I need him every step of the way. More important than that, I can feel that he believes in me and when times get tough, that helps me believe in myself, more than he’ll ever know.

Describing the first couple of hours of walking that day isn’t easy, it took such intense focus for every step that there were very few thoughts going through my mind. When there was a thought it was usually “oh shit, how am I going to make that” or “phew, I’m glad that part’s over”. There were many times that I had to hand my walking poles to Oscar so that I could scramble up on my hands and feet. Other times I couldn’t physically lift my right leg high enough to step up. Those times, on the edge of “The Wall” in a very small space I had to shimmy around with my left foot to create space for my right foot. Once my right foot was planted, along with my two walking poles, only then could I step up with my left leg. It was like a dance, an incredibly steep and slippery, vertical dance.

No picture or video could ever do justice to walking up The Wall and as I’m writing this blog I’m even finding words hard to come by. What remains strong when I think about that section is the fear that I felt. I remember questioning whether today will be the day that I break. This is followed by intense pride and courage for not only making it, but smashing it. At the top of The Wall I caught up to the group just as they were leaving the rest area. The rest area entailed a couple of logs to either sit on or sit next to and lean on. I had a good long rest and ate one of my snacks, an Eclipse Organics Paleo bar, such a treat. I knew there was a long day of walking ahead so I took my time and it was nice walking by myself, at my own pace.

When I started walking again, I put my earphones in and started listening to a motivational audio composer on Spotify called Fearless Motivation. It got me pumped and I found “the zone”. The next section of walking, I entered into the deepest flow state I’ve ever been in. If you don’t know about flow states, it’s a state of consciousness that happens as a result of your skill level directly meeting the level of challenge in front of you, combined with a centred presence and conscious breathing. Basically, your thoughts drop away and every movement becomes almost effortless. Your senses become sharper and there’s stillness within, despite whatever is happening externally.

All that existed in my awareness was my breath, everything else – the music, right foot here, left foot there were blended into the background, moving synchronistically with ease and grace. Almost as if I was being walked, rather than doing the walking. After an hour or so I caught up to the group on a rest break, but I didn’t want to stop. Our Trek leader gave us the nod so Dad and I, with our porters, went ahead. When you enter a flow state, you don’t want anything to get in your way. The next few hours of walking breezed past with only one quick rest break for another snack.

When we got to the top of Brigade Hill, the view made it all worthwhile. Doing it in style and with dad, was the cherry on top. It was the tastiest lunch of the entire trek. It was encouraging and gave me momentum that carried me the next couple of days. It also showed me just how much my training paid off.

On the top of Brigade Hill there’s a small memorial for the men that we lost in war. One team member, Tony Stewart recited an incredible poem called ‘The Gift of Years’ by Eric Bogle, which had all of us in tears. It was a very humbling moment after being on such a high and an incredible reminder of the very reasons I was there. While this was an incredibly beautiful adventure and achievement, it’s important never to forget and to give thanks to those that lost their lives for our freedom.

October 26th 2018 – Kokoda Begins

October 26th 2018 – Kokoda Begins

There was a long build up to this adventure, 15 months to be somewhat precise. Many hours of training, lots of trips back and forth to our sponsor Trek and Travel to organise the correct gear, as well as meetings with our Gold Sponsor Clubs NSW to ensure we were as prepared as we could possibly be. Our bags were packed, repacked and re-repacked, to drop any extra weight that wasn’t imperative to accomplishing the task.

Our team of 11 jumped on a short flight to Port Moresby via Brisbane and before I knew it we were staring at the expecting jungle. We met our individual porters and handed over the bag they would be carrying for us. My porter’s name was Oscar, a kind, quiet man who I enjoyed getting to know over the following days. I heard stories about the Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels, from war time and from previous Kokoda trekkers but words don’t do justice to how well they supported us. I’ll do my best in a future post.

With the Track looming in the background, some photos were taken as we said goodbye to the last vehicle we would see for over a week. Before I could process any last minute doubts, the front man Nelson and our first few team members disappeared into the jungle. Backpack on. The path started with what I thought was a relatively steep and somewhat slippery downhill. Just a teaser for what was to come.

We were notified that we would be eased into it, giving us time to acclimatise. In other words, day 1 was a warm up for what was to come. The climate was hot and muggy, carrying our water for the day added 4kg to our backpacks at times. Slippery red, clay like dirt taught me quickly that despite the beautiful scenery all around, my eyes were going to be firmly fixed only my feet for the next 9 days. If I wanted to look at the beauty around me, I had to stop, plant my feet firmly and only then could I take in the breathtakingly majestic jungle in all directions.

The hardest part of trekking for me, even in training, was the first hour. It didn’t matter if it was uphill, downhill or the odd ‘almost’ flat path, warming up, for a day of sometimes 9+ hours of walking, always required a strong will. After a few hours of walking on the first day, we walked across a beautiful river, the first of many river crossings we would make on our journey. Taking off my shoes on such a hot day and plunging my bare feet into the river felt exquisite but there were a few lessons to come. On the other side, our first lunch break awaited us.

Our team porters had walked ahead of us and set up a little fire, boiled some water for tea and coffee, and handed out sandwiches, or salads for the 3 of us with dietary restrictions. As the trek went on, for me at least, the restrictions went out the window as my need for calories overtook my pickiness, such is life in the jungle! After gobbling down my salad, I sat on the grass chatting with fellow team members and resisting the urge to break into my trek snacks this early.

An important lesson that I picked up on the first day was not to make the mistake of having to warm up my body multiple times by resting too much in the breaks. On this occasion, I unintentionally relaxed too much which meant that after lunch, it felt like I was starting all over again. As grateful as I was for this lesson so early on, I wanted to squeeze as much rest in as possible during those breaks. Nevertheless many of them were spent being mildly active in between short (and amazing) sitting sessions. Another important lesson for you, after river crossings, always dry your feet properly. On a trek such as this, you cannot look after your feet too much, it can make or break a trip.

The first sight of bright orange warranted a sigh of release to escape my lips, as it meant that I made it to the end of the days walking. Although my mind lingered on the thought that if day 1 was the warm up, only a half day of walking, what would be in store for me in the days to come. I didn’t have to wait too long to find out.

Purposeful Action

Purposeful Action

Purpose is a huge buzz word at the moment with articles running rampant, such as ‘How to Find Your Purpose’, or, ‘Get Clear on Your Purpose’.

The definition of purpose is: “the reason for which something is done, or created, or for which something exists”.

Do you know your purpose for being created?

Do you know why you exist?

These are really big questions, and while it’s nice if you can find an answer that overarches everything you do, it can feel like a lot of pressure to find “the one”. Personally, I find it more useful to focus on purposeful action.

How can there only be one purpose in our lives?

The idea of having only one purpose has always confused me, and when asked, “What is your purpose?” in different seminars, courses or by coaches and mentors, it seemed like I always had different answers. At times I judged myself, because, with all the personal development work I’ve done, I should know what my purpose is.

Many people do a lot of work to find a purpose, which acts as a filter for what they want in their life, asking themselves: does this fit in my purpose? Yes – do it, No – find something else.

It can be a very effective way of bringing more meaning and direction into your life, if that’s something you struggle with, but don’t get caught up if you’re unsure what yours is. Regardless of whether you know what your purpose is, or not, it’s more important to be taking action in life, instead of sitting on the fence contemplating.

If you’ve never even thought about what your purpose is, it’s definitely worth a journaling session or 2 or 10 – just don’t let it be another excuse for procrastination.

The changeable purpose

The truth is, while we may or may not have an overarching purpose for our whole life, our purpose can also change from day to day and moment to moment.

An example of this is when you wake up in the morning on a weekday, most people will have the purpose to get the kids up and ready for school, or just get up, eat and go to work. Whereas, on the weekend, it could be to stay in bed and read your book until midday.

Another example would be when you’re having a conversation with a co-worker, you have a specific purpose of why you’re talking – it could be about a project you’re working on, or it could be the office gossip.

You get the point. Our motivations for everything we do change from moment to moment, depending on what it is we’re trying to achieve. Having awareness about what we’re trying to accomplish is one way to be more effective and bring more meaning into our lives.

What is purposeful action?

Purposeful action is being conscious of what our purpose is, for every action we take.

Every action has a purpose, whether we’re conscious about it, or not. Having awareness of our purpose in the moment, gives us the ability to choose our actions more carefully.

Being intentional with our time, energy and the actions we take is fundamental in creating a meaningful life.

Gracious Gratitude

Gracious Gratitude

When people ask what is the one thing that has helped you the most in my recoveries, my answer is simple – Gratitude.

The art of practising gratitude has been an incredibly powerful tool I have used throughout my recoveries and in my day to day life. Gratitude has helped me to stay present, grounded and enabled me to shed light on all the amazing things still surrounding me in each moment – no matter how dire the situation I am faced with.

So, how can gratitude help you?

  • Boosts your mood and motivation
  • Brings positive energy and joy into your life, regardless of any challenges you might be facing
  • Helps you bring awareness to the things in life that shouldn’t be taken for granted
  • Creates new neural pathways and helps your brain rewire itself to automatically look for the good in every situation

My top 5 tips for bringing more gratitude into your life

1. Take a moment to ask yourself – really describe what it is you are grateful for!

‘What can I be grateful for today and why?’
‘Who am I grateful for and why?’

2. Give yourself a little love – what about yourself are you grateful for? Go on, list 3-5!!

Set yourself the goal of bringing grateful each day.

Start this by:

  • Journaling daily for one week about 3 – 5 things each day, about yourself and about your life.
  • Do this at the start and end of each day for the week and stop to answer…
  • What did you notice by practicing this?

Don’t just look externally. Being able to extend gratitude towards yourself is a fantastic way to improve self-esteem and self-confidence. This can be as simple as acknowledging you have a wonderful smile, or a great sense of humour!

3. We often focus on the big and obvious things, but what about the small things?

As I write this, I notice a bee who is busy collecting nectar from a gorgeous white and yellow flower.
I am grateful for the few minutes I have been transfixed on watching it, as it delicately adds the nectar to its stores it carries on its legs.
I am grateful for the flower for providing that sweet nectar and the subtle perfume as the breeze carries it past my nose.
I am grateful for my sense of smell. It allows me to experience this moment by adding a fragrance to this whole minute.

4. You can do it at any time, any day and anywhere! But to start, try one minute in the morning and one minute before you go to bed.

Why not start your day with one minute of gratitude before you get stuck into your day? Ask yourself, ‘What am I grateful for this morning?’ Why not end your day with, ‘How did I feel today?’

5. Express it! Don’t just keep it to yourself, spread that magic around!

Pay it forward. Why not add a little sparkle into the lives of others? Tell someone you love them. Tell them they have beautiful eyes or you simply love their company…You get my gist!

What am I grateful for right now?

Today, I am grateful I woke up with fresh air in my lungs, a heart that rhythmically keeps beating and a brain that keeps functioning regardless of the amount of trauma it has experienced over the past 30 years.

Today, I am grateful for the amazing people in my life who stand by me with unwavering love and dedication.

Today, I am grateful for nature.

Today I am grateful for having fresh, good quality food and water to nourish my body.

Today, I am grateful for being able to share this with you.

Today, I am grateful I am alive – right here, right now.

What are you grateful for in this very moment?

Inspiration through action.

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