Homecoming for Defence Force veteran with one leg after Kokoda Track trek

  • A former member of the Defence Force with one leg has returned home after completing Papua New Guinea’s gruelling Kokoda………

    Antony Zahra walks Kokoda Track

    PHOTO: Former Defence Force member Antony Zahra walked the Kokoda Track with one leg. (Supplied: Kokoda Trekking)

    A former member of the Defence Force with one leg has returned home after completing Papua New Guinea’s gruelling Kokoda Track on crutches.

    Antony Zahra, who lost his leg in a motorcycle accident in 1988, says he may be the first person with one leg to complete the trek without any physical assistance.

    Mr Zahra, from Broken Hill in far west New South Wales, has spent weeks recovering and blisters on his hands are still healing.

    However, Mr Zahra, who spent 18 years in the Defence Force and the Army Reserve, said he had no regrets about putting himself through the punishing experience.

    “The challenges are physical, mental, then getting away from negativity, people that doubt you in some way,” he said. “The people that have done it all encourage you to do it, because it’s a life-changing experience.”

    Mr Zahra completed the 11-day trek in May with the aim of raising awareness of Defence veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

    “I’ve got a few guys in town that are helping get our registered number and our collection tins from the Soldier On foundation,” he said.

    “That’s the main cause I’m going to be focused on for a while.”

    ‘Just phenomenal, I can’t even compare it’

    Antony Zahra walking the Kokoda Track

    PHOTO: Mr Zahra believed he may have been the first person to complete the Kokoda Track with one leg unassisted.(Supplied: Kokoda Trekking)

    “I don’t rely on anything else other than the crutches themselves,” Mr Zahra said.

    “A couple of friends, we modified the feet on the bottom of the crutches and made up a foot system.

    “We finally came up with one design that suited the terrain, which is the mud, rocks, and anything slippery like logs.”

    A sense of anticipation setting off quickly gave way to serious illness.

    “I was only into it for about five or six hours then I was actually very, very sick, for probably all that night,” he said.

    “I was throwing up. The shock to the system, the heat, plus the medication.

    “Probably around day four my hands were starting to blister up, starting to feel the numbness in my hands and the ankle. But you can’t go home, you’ve got to keep going. “Failure’s not an option. I had to do it. Mentally I was pretty good.”

    Mr Zahra said none of the training he had done at Broken Hill and near Tully in Western Australia had prepared him for the experience of walking the Kokoda Track.

    “I’ve heard about it, read about the track, and the conditions of the jungle there, but once you’re actually there to see it, [it was] just phenomenal. I can’t even compare it,” he said.

    Anger at litterbugs

    Mr Zahra said he was shocked at the amount of rubbish lining the track, which he said did not come from locals.

    “[It made me] very angry, because it’s a battlefield, that’s parade ground,” he said.

    “Doesn’t matter if they were friend or foe, they died. They died for the beliefs they were led into battle for, and it doesn’t matter what they were.”

    “That’s where they took their last breath. And just to desecrate it with rubbish? That was emotional.”

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