Five months on from the desert

8 October 2015

Almost half a year after setting off to conquer the Simpson Desert, Youngcare CEO Sam Kennerley still has fond memories about the ultimate Australian adventure challenge.

“Five months to the day and I still miss the beauty, aura, isolation and desolation of the Simpson Desert. A privilege it was to trek with a super human bunch; they felt the love, the pain, the frustrations of little or no choice, the poshness (not) of the ‘Thunderbox’ toilet, the ration packs with tinned chicken, packet soup, dried noodles. Nasi Goreng one day, Shepherd’s Pie the next and by day three the realisation that they all tasted the same – the alleged meat was just a different shape.

I had three roles in the desert; Mum to James (aged 22), CEO of Youngcare and wife to Rich (age not disclosed!). It was a month short of the three years since our life changed in a moment. The phone call from the police that no parent wants to receive in the middle of the night. James had been hit by a taxi, critically injured and in a coma at the Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital. He had suffered a traumatic brain injury – a what? How could that have happened to James, my 19-year-old full of life, Uni student son and big brother to 16-year-old Em. Brain injuries are complex, and so much is still unknown, but after 17 long days James regained consciousness and his rehab journey started with a vengeance. Finally back to University for James and then a full-time job, and February 2015 saw him move to Sydney with work. “Miraculous,” said his neurologist. “You shouldn’t be here James.”


Well “here” is exactly where he is and to be setting off across the Simpson Desert with him, trekking 30-35km a day made me feel like one of the most fortunate Mums there is. James was so determined to prove he could do it and have closure on his three-year journey. He knew to have the opportunity to trek the Simpson Desert was special, but to also have the chance to give back financially to those young people with high care needs that haven’t been as fortunate as him was exactly what he was going to do. No mother wants to see their child, however old they may be, suffer; to be incapable of speech, unable to feed themselves or walk and knowing that they are scared, so scared and unable to articulate that, or maybe even not want to, as what could the future hold – institutionalised care?

Seeing James stride out over the dunes each day, following in his footsteps but stepping away when his very independent streak came out, was something that at times I couldn’t have imagined. By day nine the stride had become a shuffle with a crook hip and knee, aided by walking poles – but give in he wouldn’t. As parents we hope to inspire our children, but an inspiration James was to me each and every day in the desert. On another level so too was my husband and my fellow trekkers. Their commitment, resilience and smiles – always a smile from every single one of them no matter what the day or night had brought. And just going back to that ‘Thunderbox’….  geesh it took a hammering but it did the job well and will be making a return to the Simpson Desert from 28 April – 8 May 2016 – as will I.

Our experience gave us a deeper understanding and appreciation of how lives can be changed in an instant, and the options that might not have been available to us if James’ circumstances had taken an unfortunate turn. Young people deserve to live young lives. And to be part of the Youngcare team building the future where no young person has to face life in aged care is, as my fellow trekkers would say, truly “marvellous”.”

Sam Kennerley

Think you have what it takes to conquer the desert in 2016? CLICK HERE to see more about the ultimate Australian challenge.

Members of the Youngcare Simpson Desert Challenge 2015

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