By Duncan Evans
It’s Saturday night at 9pm, the night before Anzac Day.
In the dark night, on the oval at the Boyne Island Primary School, a cast of figures appear and disappear under soft yellow lights, walking or jogging in laps around the oval as music from a speaker system plays.
It’s an uncommon sight but one that speaks to a remarkable act of respect.
The men and women have been walking, jogging and shuffling since 4am, deep into their commitment as part of the Walking 4 Warriors Endurance challenge.
The challenge was as follows:
Men and women of all ages were invited to walk, jog or move for six, 12 or 24 hours, continuously, to pay their respects to Australia’s veterans and raise money for Young Veterans Central Queensland.
The event was sponsored by the Calliope and District Community Bank, High Risk Solutions and the Shed Company.
It was a stunning success, raising some $25,000 for the veterans’ support charity.
The success, though, came with a considerable dose of pain.
Staying awake for 24 hours is a challenge in itself, let alone moving the whole time.
When CQ Today arrived on site, the men and women who had bravely taken up the 24-hour challenge were 17 hours into their act of service with another seven hours to go.
Craig Watson, one of the key organisers of the event, sat down briefly with CQ Today to talk about the event.
The exhaustion he was feeling was apparent, but so too his genuine love and gratitude for Australia’s service men and women.
“The reason we are doing this is to honour our veterans, pay respect to them, by doing something extremely difficult. So we challenge people to come way out of their comfort zone,” he said.
“The significance with 24 hours is we start at 4am, and we finish at 4am for dawn service, so that’s our way of just showing our veterans how much it means to us, what they’ve done, what they do.”
At the time CQ Today spoke with Mr Watson, he had just come off sprinting for 45 minutes in order to hit 100 km in 17 hours.
“I’m not feeling very good at all,” Mr Watson said with a chuckle.
“But we’re just grinding it out. We’re all supporting each other. We’re a big team out here. And everyone’s just helping each other move. We’re all suffering. We have been for hours now. We probably all got to about 12 hours, or even earlier, and the problems started setting in for most people, and from there on, it’s just a grind.”
Ken Mulcair, a paramedic and 20-year Navy veteran, was on-site to provide care to the participants.
“A lot of blisters,” he said, when asked what the most common ailment had been.
“The guys have prepared, they’ve done training, they’ve gone into it doing all the right things, but it’s just choice of footwear on the day and the conditions.”
Carbohydrates and lollies were on tap to keep sugar levels up and water for the event was provided by ASN Gladstone.
Mr Mulcair said none of the participants had fainted, or come down with any serious medical problems, at the time he spoke with CQ Today.
Planning for the event began six month ago.
“It’s been a dream for a while to do something like this,” Mr Watson said.
Altogether, some 200 people participated in the event across all three categories. About 35 signed up for the 24-hour challenge.
Geoff Morrissy, a civilian who works in contracts with Gladstone Regional Council, discussed his strategy to get through the challenge with CQ Today.
“I was quite fortunate, I was trained by an ex-military friend. We went out, and we would train after work,” he said.
“We’d run five kilometres in the morning before work, and then after work, we’d finish at five o’clock, and we’d strap on the gear and go from four to 12 hours, walking or running.”
The event began at Stirling Park and then carried over to the primary school for the night after 4pm.
Adam Pritchard, a 12-year Navy veteran, said the sight of civilians putting themselves through such hardships in support of servicemembers such as himself meant a great deal.
“When I was first told about it, it really brought tears to my eyes,” he said.
“Civilians that are just so passionate about this, it’s just amazing.”
In a telephone call with CQ Today on the following Tuesday after the event, Mr Watson said with a laugh that he was feeling a little better.
“We all made it through,” he said.
“Our whole team is just humbled basically by the response and support of the event. It started as a simple dream to pay our respects to the veterans, and it grew into something so much more. We’re so grateful for every one’s involvement and support.”
When asked whether the challenge would go ahead again next year, Mr Watson said with a laugh:
“You can’t make me answer that just yet! But we hope too. As a team, we just need five minutes to relax and spend a few minutes for the family. But we hope to provide that opportunity again.”