Today was going to be tough, there were no two ways about it.
From the moment my alarm sounded at 5.30am I knew this was going to be a long and arduous day for me and the team.
Shortly after our 6.00am breakfast we were on the team bus on our way to New Zealand’s Tongiraro Alpine Crossing made famous across the world as the scene for part of the Lord of the Rings movie.
Right now as we approached the crossing Hollywood was the last thing on our minds for we knew had a seven hour mountain trek ahead of us.
The boys were tired and not sure what to expect but we were as prepared as we could be with water, thermal clothing in case the temperatures dropped suddenly and water proofjackets in the event of rain.
Once we arrived we all broke into three even groups all assigned with a specialist mountain climber for support.
Just after 7.30am we all set off on the 1900 metre climb up the mountain.
The first three kilometres was along flat terrain but already we were all starting to feel it with the heavy backpacks already starting to take their toll.
The next seven kilometres to the top of the summit were absolute hell.
With sweat pouring from my forehead it was a battle just putting one foot in front of the other as we tackled the steep incline.
With each step higher, the air was getting thinner and it was harder to take in oxygen. At the same time my legs were getting heavier.
But it was all worth it when we finally reached the top of the mountain.
Together as a team we showed great resilience and we all helped each other get to the top.
After a long year together as a group it was great to share this experience together.
At the top of the mountain Uncle Pauly (Port Adelaide Aboriginal Programs Director Paul Vandenbergh) brought the team together and reinforced the message that conquering other daily challenges is no different to conquering this mountain today.
If you commit to the challenge and get good support around you there is no reason why we all can’t conquer challenges regularly.
I took great inspiration and confidence from Pauly’s message and I will remember this day when I’m confronted by other challenges that will invariably come throughout my life.
The scenery from the top of the mountain was just breath taking. We could take in fresh water lakes, snow capped mountains and rumbling volcanic sites. It was simply incredible and well worth the effort to get there.
After a short break at the top of the mountain we began our three-hour journey to the finish line.
We all thought it was going to be easier going downhill but it proved to be equally as challenging.
The risk of slipping down hill or falling forward was real so I found myself spending the next three hours walking in a slightly crouched position putting enormous pressure on my knees and ankles.
After a tick under seven hours and 21 kilometres later we finally reached the finish line.
There were high fives and man hugs all round as we finally conquered the entire crossing.
What a feeling. We were all exhausted by really proud of what we achieved.
With sore bodies and red faces, we jumped on our team bus and with the weather at 26 degrees, which is very warm for New Zealand, we went for a swim at Lake Taupo.
This was just what we needed to ease our sore muscles. This lake is just spectacular and I’ve never swum in clear, fresh water like this. The water was cold but it was instantly refreshing.
After about 45 minutes we headed back to our accommodation where we had dinner and then enjoyed a quiet night before our scheduled departure tomorrow for Auckland ahead of Sunday’s game.
After yesterday’s early start and exhausting walk across the Tongariro Alpine Crossing we were given the opportunity to sleep in until 8.00am today.
I managed to drag myself off my bed to breakfast, but only just. My body was so weary and sore after yesterday’s 21-kilometre walk. My calves were tight and my hips and knees were aching but despite the pain it was so worth it.
The boys were still reflecting on our achievement at breakfast and spoke about how we all helped each other overcome our doubts. Although we had worked as a group all year yesterday was the ultimate bonding experience.
After breakfast we jumped on our team bus and farewelled the beautiful town of Terangi.
Six hours later we arrived in Auckland. Our trip had taken longer than expected so instead of checking into our accommodation we went straight to our training session at QBE stadium.
At this session we met our New Zealand opponents for the first time.
We held a joint training session with them where we got to know them not as only as opponents but as people which was great.
The ground is a multipurpose venue hosting AFL, Rugby League and Soccer. The surface as superb and it was a great sight to see four posts at each of the ground. It’s amazing how seeing some goal posts makes you feel at home again.
Both teams enjoyed the 60-minute session and we then headed back tumour hotel for a quick shower before the official pre-game dinner hosted by AFL NZ.
At the dinner we got to mingle with our New Zealand opponents again and got to learn more about the growth of AFL in New Zealand from their CEO Robert Vanstam and Board member Trina Tamati.
Without doubt AFL is growing in popularity here in New Zealand and I was pleasantly surprised to see how many quality players have played in the AFL with New Zealand heritage including former players Simon Black and Sam Mitchell as well as current players Shane Savage, Max Gawn and Port Adelaide’s own Jasper Pittard.
After dinner every team member was presented with their guernseys with both the New Zealand players and my teammates beaming with pride.
It was an extra special moment for me as my Auntie Celess, my father’s sister, came along to see me get presented with my Guernsey. Like the rest of my New Zealand family, I had only recently met my Auntie for the first time to have her with me at this time was something that I’ll never forget.
At the end of the night Uncle Pauly (Aboriginal Programs Director Paul Vandenbergh) granted me permission to go with my Auntie to visit my Nana Rachel.
It was another great opportunity to continue putting the pieces of my life jigsaw puzzle together and learn more about my Maori heritage.
After a couple of hours I headed back to our team hotel where I went to straight to bed to ensure I had plenty of rest before our game against New Zealand tomorrow.
Story – Port Adelaide Football Club