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Meet The Aussie Navy Divers Tackling The Kokoda Track In Support Of Rare Cancer Research

9 Aug 2019 at 2:28 PM

If you’ve frequented the promenade that wraps its body around the shores of Manly, you may have found your eyes gazing not to the lurching body of waves careering to the shore, but to the five muscle-men decked out in their uniform of camouflage.

Their syncopation of movements and feats of endurance look not unlike scenes you’d expect from the latest Hollywood blockbuster, one starring the likes of Jason Statham or The Rock. But where the coastal beaches of Australia are no stranger to shirtless fitness fanatics hoping to flex their muscles in the cool draught of a sea breeze, these men have a purpose that goes beyond that of sculpting obliques and elevating the heart rate.

They're raising awareness for those suffering from rare cancers. And they're doing it by tackling the Kokoda Track.

Our awareness of cancer in Australia has grown significantly. Schools inculcated the knowledge that cancer rounds out the top five leading causes of death, notably due to lung cancer. We’re told to “slip, slop, slap” to avoid skin cancer, while fundraisers for breast and prostate cancer draw crowds each year. But when it comes to rare and less common cancers, theirs is a story that’s frequently left untold. 

It’s shameful at best, particularly when you consider the fact that the death rate is four times higher than other cancers, resulting in 25,000 deaths annually in Australia and over 52,000 rare cancer diagnoses a year.

Despite the high prevalence of rare cancers, those Australians living with them continue to be overlooked when it comes to treatment and care and for the majority, without the assistance of Rare Cancers Australia, funding for treatment and emotional support would be largely impossible.

In addition to the voice Rare Cancers Australia hopes to give its community, these five navy divers are now taking the issue into their own hands and hoping to raise money for the charity by trekking Kokoda.

The track itself stands as an icon for Australian participation in World War II, and since then it’s become something of a hallmark for struggle as to complete the Kokoda Track takes immeasurable courage and unwavering mental strength.

Sadly, theirs is a plight that had a tragic inception. The shocking reality and prevalence of rare cancers in Australia came and knocked on the door of Navy diver and Chief Petty Officer, Cameron Schmid, who lost his father, grandmother and grandfather to various forms of rare cancers.

Having lived through the experience, Schmid was determined to bring awareness to these less common killers and will be doing just that by taking on Kokoda Track alongside four of the fittest Navy Clearance Divers who now return form duty in the Middle East. 

With the boys embarking on the trek this Saturday August 10, we managed to steal a moment with Chief Petty Officer Schmid between training sessions, to find out more about their training, team camaraderie, and why this is a cause that needs greater attention.

 

GQ: To begin, can you give us an insight into how the idea of tackling the Kokoda Track to raise awareness for Rare Cancers Australia first originated?

Chief Petty officer Cameron Schmid: I received a call from my brother, who works for a company whose primary charity partner is Rare Cancers Australia, and for whom he has done personal fundraising in the past. He explained the mission of Rare Cancers Australia, and the importance of the trek to their fundraising and how it contributes to people living with rare and less common cancers.

He told me that he was sure that Rare Cancers Australia would be interested if my team were available to participate and assist in supporting the Foundation through this physical challenge.

The Kokoda Track has an incredible legacy in Australia’s culture. What does it mean to you to be embarking on this journey?

As a military person for nearly 19 years, it has always been a personal goal of mine to tackle the Kokoda track and trace the steps of our fallen. It will be an absolute honour to embark on the journey with Rare Cancers Australia and also participate in the dawn service at the end of the trek.

 

It’s also regarded as one of the most challenging hikes in the world. With that in mind, what does you training for the Kokoda Track entail? 

The members within my team are qualified Royal Australian Navy Clearance Divers that have all gone through an extensive physical and mental test to be selected. This selection is over approximately 14 months where we are tested not only mentally and physically, but also through teamwork and resilience. Therefore, we are naturally fit individuals that all strive to succeed and push the limits.

 

Having served in the Middle East, does that experience transfer to what you’ll be tackling at Kokoda in any way?

I have served in numerous areas within the Middle East and throughout the world. All of these locations have their challenges both physically and mentally.

Deployments to these areas all have their dedicated work up programme based off the task required of us. Mentally preparing for such a task is difficult if you don’t know what you are going to experience, however with good family support and camaraderie we achieve what is asked of us and come home safely. 

 

And in terms of team camaraderie, what do you do to foster and encourage that?

Most of our work is conducted in small teams that require every member to execute their task to the best of their ability in order to achieve mission success. Support and knowing everyone’s tasks and responsibilities is what gets us through.

Having the Rare Cancers Australia team alongside us will foster a unique relationship as we all have experiences and personal attributes that we bring to the journey.

In terms of rare cancers, why do you think Australians suffering from these diseases continue to be overlooked in terms of treatment, empathy and care? 

Rare Cancers Australia is a great foundation that contributes information and resources to people who, through various reasons, can’t receive assistance from the government, or are simply struggling with the burden of household costs that occur when someone in the family is really sick.

Through my team and the exposure of this walk, we hope to not only fundraise the required money but also raise awareness and help put a spotlight on the nature of rare and less common cancers – any of which could affect us as Australians in to the future.

 

In your opinion, what needs to be improved and how does the charity Rare Cancers Australia help with this? 

Awareness and education is the best message, and Rare Cancers Australia helps out with that when people or their families are at their most vulnerable. These aren’t conditions that people plan on getting, so it is a shock when they do and often they won’t know where to turn.

My own family knows this through experience. Rare Cancers Australia also works with other stakeholders to highlight the need for further research and policy changes that could improve the lives and outcomes of Australians living with rare or less common cancer.

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Original source: https://www.gq.com.au/fitness/health-nutrition/meet-the-aussie-navy-divers-tackling-the-kokoda-track-in-support-of-rare-cancers/image-gallery/f9abfd23f0bac06258973c850f093e57?pos=4
Category: Rare Cancers in the News
Tags: KOKODA, Rare, TREK,
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