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Taking on Kokoda

This contribution has been submitted to Webdiary by a student in the Online Journalism unit for the Masters in Media Practice and Masters in Publishing courses at The University of Sydney as part of the unit's assessment. The topics covered in the pieces awaiting publication are interesting – and diverse. We hope that Webdiarists will enjoy reading them, as well as giving these aspiring journalists plenty of constructive commentary.

Taking on Kokoda
by Sarah Jessup

Instead of fearing one family legacy, Viona Young has embraced another - and helped to raise over $200,000 for breast cancer research.

Viona Young has a daunting family legacy. Having lost both her grandmother and mother to breast cancer, she lives with the knowledge that she is at significant risk of developing the cancer that is responsible for more deaths of Australian women each year than any other cancer.

Deciding to devote her energies and spare time to helping find a cure, Young came up with a fundraising scheme based on another family legacy.

Young’s grandfather was one of a number of young soldiers who bravely faced the Japanese army on the Kokoda trail in World War Two. The soldiers fought in rough and volatile conditions that were extremely mentally and physically challenging.

In 2007 Young decided that she would walk the Kokoda trail and find another eleven women to do it with her. Each participant had to cover the costs of travel and commit to raising at least $5000 for breast cancer research. The fundraising target for 2007 was $60 000.

The idea behind the challenge is that its demands compare to that of chemotherapy.

“We compared walking to watching someone go through chemotherapy,” Young says

In 2007 the Kokoda Chicks far-exceeded their fund raising target and raised over $100 000 for breast cancer research. This made the Kokoda Chicks the largest non-corporate fund-raisers for breast cancer research for 2007.

This October another twelve women will be walking the Kokoda trail to raise money for breast cancer research.

With a month to go the 2008 Kokoda Chicks have raised $98,000. The last month is also usually the most intensive for fundraising, and so it looks as though the chicks are well on their way to exceeding the amount of money raised last year.

According to statistics from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare & National Breast Cancer Centre, 11,700 new cases of breast cancer are diagnosed each year, resulting in approximately 2,600 deaths.

Funding is vital for research into all aspects of breast cancer including prevention, diagnosis, treatment and support.

Walking Kokoda seems a uniquely and proudly Australian way to raise money in the fight against cancer.

Kokoda was one of Australia's most significant campaigns of the Second World War. More Australians, many aged 18 and 19, died in the seven months fighting on the trail than in any other Australian wartime campaign.

The Kokoda walking track crosses the Owen Stanley Ranges and is 96 kilometres long. It links the north and south coasts of Papua New Guinea.

The trail is rugged and challenging, weaving through rainforest and jungle, crossing steep mountains and deep valleys. The weather is hot, humid and wet.

The challenge of Kokoda is not only in the walking, but in the months of training, preparation and fundraising. Although Young is not walking the trail this year, her support has been instrumental to the organisation of this year’s trip and to the morale of this year’s participants.

“She seems to know what we are going through and is really encouraging. A few times I have wanted to throw in the towel, and then I get an email from her and I think yeah, I can do this,” says Allison La Spina, one of the 2008 Kokoda Chicks.

“What she’s done is amazing. I feel like what I have achieved so far is amazing... and I haven’t even left yet”.

October is Breast Cancer month. This year the Kokoda Chicks will commence their trek on October 19.

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