Hickey’s mountain trek provides inspiration

MELCLIMBING a mountain is an extreme commitment, especially when done partly as a way of preparing for an intense and punishing pre-season football program.

Yet Melbourne defender Melissa Hickey and Western Bulldogs forward Katie Brennan were more than up for the challenge of completing that daunting assignment before launching into training for the inaugural NAB AFL Women’s competition.

Prior to officially starting with their respective AFLW clubs last year, they took part in a gruelling six-day trek up Mt Kilimanjaro in Tanzania in late October. The climb was part of an Intrepid Travel program aimed at raising awareness of women’s land rights and gender inequality, in conjunction with ActionAid.

The trek was timed to coincide with the United Nations International Day of Rural Women, with participants producing a charter of demands for equal land rights for women to be presented to the UN and African Union. According to ActionAid, women own just 1 per cent of Africa’s land despite female farmers producing 80 per cent of the continent’s food.

The AFLW marquee selections, teammates with Victorian powerhouse Darebin Falcons, were part of a group that reached the summit of the 5895m dormant volcano, Africa’s highest mountain.

The hike – which started in rainforest and ended in snow – involved a six-hour walk to huts at a base camp before an eight-hour climb to the peak starting at midnight.

Hickey described the last day of the trek as “the most challenging 24 hours of my life” as she battled fatigue from the slow climb and lack of sleep, bitterly cold weather including searing winds, nausea and light-headedness. She willed herself to finish by repeatedly reminding herself of her mantra: “I am strong. I can do this”.

“It’s a really strange experience, as if your brain leaves you and you’re just putting one foot in front of the other. We got to what they call Gilman’s Point and we felt we had got there (the summit).

“We looked around, the sun was rising and we were quite emotional. And then we found out we had another two hours to go to actually get to the peak.”

Hickey, 32, said she was thrilled to be able to take part in “a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” with “inspiring and remarkable women”.

“It’s pretty cool to be able to draw upon the experience. It was more the prolonged mental battle.

“I knew I was going to get there, but it was [about] pushing through it, much like a long training session,” she said.

“Just the mindset, the power of positive psychology when you tell yourself what you’ve achieved. When you are fatigued and you hit a tough patch and it’s challenging, you can turn that around from a negative to a positive.”