Chaffey swings into training for a grand adventure

Talk at the Range Community Gym and Fitness Centre at Mapleton has turned from footy tips and cricket scores to strategies for tackling PNG’s infamous Kokoda Track.

Chaffey Backhouse, 65, is training to walk the track along with the gym’s senior trainer, Paul Parker.  
He’s one of three Kokoda connections at the gym.

Ex-serviceman, Denis Condon, the gym’s recently retired boxing coach and fitness instructor, walked the track carrying a 20-kilogram pack in 2008, aged 58, and is on hand with first-hand experience tips.

Also joining Chaffey’s team of strategists is gym regular, Ian Jennings, who was posted near the track during World War II.

Ian, now 93, is reticent to speak about his experience but has had a quiet word to Chaffey about his sojourn in PNG’s Central Province.

Chaffey, formerly a stock and station agent and auctioneer from Emerald, enjoys a close relationship with his son-in-law, Louis, a Toowoomba veterinarian.

The two like to sneak off for “adventures” such as going to England to watch the cricket. But, one day, Louis suggested a really big adventure – walking the Kokoda Track.

 “I looked down at my stomach and thought, ‘I couldn’t possibly do that’,”laughs Chaffey.

“But then I thought, ‘Why not? It wouldn’t hurt to get fit and lose a bit of gut’.”

“Besides,” he says, uncharacteristically serious for a moment, “I’ve always been interested in military history and I’m proud to participate in ANZAC Day commemorations.

“I thought walking the track was a good way to show my respect for our soldiers’ commitment and the loss of life in saving us from invasion.”

Chaffey soon realised walking the 97-kilometre Kokoda track, a gruelling nine-day hike which ascends 2190 metres (7185 feet) to the peak of PNG’s Mount Bellamy, required some serious training.

“Chaffey, if you can do this, it will be a pretty big effort starting from a pretty low base,” Louis chided.

So Chaffey joined the Range Community Gym where fitness trainer Paul Parker tailored a program to bring a man of Chaffey’s age and less-than-perfect physique up to the task.

Local physiotherapist Russell McDonald joined the training team, confident Chaffey could conquer Kokoda, despite a persistent back injury.

“Paul and Russell have been tremendous,” says Chaffey.  

“Paul trains me hard, but he tells me I’m awesome and gives me a cuddle every Friday at the end of my week’s sessions.”  

With Paul seeing to his physical fitness, Denis Condon provided assurance that, given the right preparation, Kokoda is not beyond the capabilities of seniors.

As the locals say, the track is “a liddy biddy up and a liddy biddy down”, but Chaffey’s team is confident he’ll make the distance.  

And once he’s fighting fit with such a huge achievement under his belt, who knows what the next big adventure might be?