Man on a mission
Tuesday, 12th July, 2016
By Darrin Manuel
Local ex-serviceman Antony Zahra has spoken of his history-making journey to Papua New Guinea that saw him become the first person to complete the grueling Kokoda Track on crutches.
The former SAS soldier, who lost his leg in a motorcycle accident in 1987, completed the dangerous 96-kilometre trek in 11 days without assistance.
The 53-year-old undertook the walk in May this year to raise money for soldiers suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a condition which Antony himself battles on a daily basis.
He trained for 18 months to prepare for the journey, and worked with Muscat Automotive and Bolton’s engineering to create special steel clawed caps for his crutches so we wouldn’t sink in the PNG mud.
“I knew it was going to be hard from the start, that’s why I trained for the 18 months, and the prep I did was ideal,” he said.
“It was very, very mentally and physically hard, especially being on one limb.
“There were river crossings, climbs, if I fell over I got up myself... there were days that were very hard.
“A couple of mornings I started walking at quarter-to-six and didn’t get in until 11 at night.”
The hardships of the walk were offset by the kind people he met along the way however, and he said people from all walks of life marveled at his will to complete the track.
“I met easily six thousand people along the trail, other trekkers from all around the world and locals,” he said.
Antony said it was these locals who captured his heart along the journey.
He said Australian servicemen were still held in very high regard for their sacrifices in World War II when they fought to protect PNG from the invading Japanese forces.
“Some locals walked two or three days out of their village just to come and see me, it was phenomenal.
“Especially with me being ex-military, with the history of it - they’re very, very grateful, they love ex-servicemen.
“I’d really just love to thank the people of PNG for having me there.
“What an honour it was, they just treated me like I was a king, they really did.”
With the journey now complete, Antony said he has no plans to rest on his laurels.
He is currently organising a tin-rattle to raise further money for PTSD-support charity Soldier On, and said he may even walk the track again with his sister if she chooses to tackle it in the future.
He also wished to thank all local businesses and gym staff who offered support and training to make the trek possible.