In a time where suicide kills more veterans than war, one Goolgowi man has come back from his lowest point focused on helping others.
Jack Barden will hike the length of Norway this year - 3353 kilometres in just five months - in a bid to help change the mindset of veterans dealing with illness or mental health issues.
Jack knows well the challenges many veterans face. A former protective mobility vehicle driver with the Australian Army, his day job used to involve resupplying other operating bases in Afghanistan.
“It was extremely dangerous, it was an IED war, so we could only drive at the speed the engineers told us to go and we were constantly looking on the ground,” he said.
“You would play scenarios through your head all the time...so you are constantly ready.”
But it all came to an end when, at just 23, he was medically discharged after a degenerated protruding disc meant he couldn’t stand up for longer than a minute.
In pain and angry, he hit his lowest point, self-medicating and trying to run away from his problems.
“I was going nowhere and I was more disappointed in myself because I saw myself as a failure,” he said.
“I was still replaying those scenarios in my head everyday and at the start it made me really angry, I thought I was being an idiot and the anger just built up.”
In the end it was talking to a mate who explained he wasn’t alone that helped Jack the most, putting him on track to get a spinal fusion, and maybe just saving his life.
Two-and-a-half months on from that surgery, a determined Jack was out of rehab and backpacking through South America.
But he was one of the lucky ones.
“As veterans when we get injured, or we get a mental illness we really focus on all of the things we can’t do and that really gets us into a rut of helplessness and depression,” he said.
“I had to accept I was never going to be in the military again, I was never going to be good enough to march beside my brothers again, all of those things that made me a man in my eyes I could no longer do and I accepted that and focused on the things I could do.”
Today Jack’s main focus is his upcoming trip ‘Status Resfeber’ with the hope it will motivate and inspire other veterans, stuck in the place he once was, and encourage them to get the help they need.
“We want to create an example that will change the veteran narrative,” he said.
“The idea is to plant a seed in the veterans’ heads and for us to grow the roots to help them accept their injury or illness.”
What had originally begun as a solo trip, a challenge Jack set for himself, quickly snowballed as his cause resonated with veterans worldwide.
“People keep ringing me most days to say they want to get on board,” he said.
“Now we have four blokes doing the entire length and then half a dozen doing other parts as well as other veterans from the US, Britain and Norway who want to get involved and share their stories.”
With his trek 100 per cent self funded, all donations to Jack’s cause are going to Team Rubicon Australia to help continue the work of the great organisation and to fly in other veterans to take part.
Jack will hold a fundraiser, including yabbie races, on Saturday, January 28 from 12pm at the Goolgowi Pub.