Battling the Elements for Gutsy Glory

Written by Melanie Manuel

It was a cold, foggy and exceptionally windy Saturday morning when our team of 63 trekkers, led by Professor Nick Pavlakis, set out from Charlotte’s Pass in late March to hike to the summit of Mt Kosciuszko – all to raise vital funds for GI cancer research.

The vast expanse of the Snowy Mountains was ahead of us as we donned rain jackets, gloves, beanies and scarves to start our walk. With the fresh mountain air in our lungs, we started off at a rapid pace to keep warm.

The view was clear for the first hour, but halfway to the top, the clouds pulled in from all directions and the rain started. We lost sight of the valley below us as everything become misty and we were guided only by the person in front of us.

When we finally reached the summit of Australia’s highest mountain, there was an air of celebration. We had made it! Although we battled some treacherous weather, I was motivated by the positive team spirit and by each person’s own story for taking on this trek.

Gutsy Challenge trekker Cathy Leibman sums up her experience of the trek, “I loved the human connection – sharing experiences and making new friends, walking alongside doctors, nurses and administrative staff; family members whose loved ones are currently undergoing treatment; patients who are in remission and those remarkable GI cancer patients who reached the top of Australia’s highest summit.”

Cathy’s mother Ivy was diagnosed with Metastatic Pancreas Adenocarcinoma in August 2020. Cathy flew back to Australia from her home in the Bahamas to be with her mother, all while the COVID-19 pandemic was taking place. It was during her time back in Sydney that she found out about the Gutsy Challenge through her mother’s doctor and Mt Kosciuszko trek leader, Professor Nick Pavlakis.

For Grant Mundell, fundraising for the trek was a way he could help to progress the research being done into GI cancer treatments. Grant was diagnosed with a Neuroendocrine Tumour (NET) in 2014 and has been directly impacted by the research of Professor Nick Pavlakis. “I have been lucky to have him, along with many others, as part of my medical support team. I wanted to make sure I could do my bit to help with the fantastic work that Nick and other researchers are doing”.

Grant also agrees that the most enjoyable aspect of the trek was the opportunity to meet so many people affected by GI cancer, “It was very touching and goes to show that directly and indirectly, so many people are affected. Through my own experience I have seen how talented and caring our medical community are and with further funds and support we can achieve some incredible outcomes and ensure that GI cancer patients’ quality of life is fostered for as long as possible.”

For Nurse Coordinator Jenny Arena, the Mt Kosciuszko trek was another way she could try to make things better for GI cancer patients. “Having the privilege to meet so many patients and families over the years affected by GI cancers, it was great to be part of a team wanting to make things better for patients both now and into the future. Although the weather wasn’t ideal, the feeling of so many good people coming together to support such a worthwhile cause was both humbling and exciting. It is definitely something that I would be keen to be part of again and would encourage others to do the same!”

GI Cancer Institute CEO, Russell Conley took part in his first Gutsy Challenge tackling Mt Kosciuszko. He decided to participate in the trek so he could contribute to the development of new AGITG research in a different way.  “I found the experience to be absolutely exhilarating! The weather was challenging with strong winds and rain but that added to the experience. I was proud to play a part in the team effort fundraising for new research that will benefit GI cancer patients.”

Trek Lead Prof Nick Pavlakis and GI Cancer Institute CEO Russell Conley
Trek Lead Prof Nick Pavlakis and GI Cancer Institute CEO Russell Conley

Thanks to all our Gutsy Challenge trekkers we raised over $140,000 for the Innovation Grant, which supports new research into GI cancer treatments. Only through new research can we improve outcomes for the 28,600 Australians diagnosed with a GI cancer every year.

To make a donation to the Mt Kosciuszko trek visit: 

View Mt Kosciuszko Trek Photos


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