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An Oban woman has put her best foot forward in the land of the long white cloud and raised more than £1,500 to boot.
Jaki Aitken, and three of her chums, tackled New Zealand’s largest team endurance event, the Oxfam Trailwalker, completing the 100km route in an amazing 20 hours and seven minutes.
Born and raised in Oban, Jaki made the move down under with her fiance Alex Johnson in 2011 when a six-month cycling holiday turned into a permanent move to the south sea island.
In 2017, however, the couple were left heartbroken when their baby daughter Rebecca was diagnosed with type 1 SMA (Spinal Muscular Atrophy) and died at the age of only five months.
A keen mountain biker and walker, Jaki told us that Rebecca’s passing was the main inspiration behind taking on the Trailwalker challenge.
‘I’ve have been through much tougher these last few years, so I figured if I can get through that I get through this,’ she told us.
‘I believed doing the Oxfam challenge would help me become a stronger person by doing something I knew I would find very hard. It is also a way for me to give back after all the support Alex and I received from family, friends and charities when we dealing with Rebecca’s diagnosis and her passing.
‘That was my main inspiration. However, the Oxfam Trailwalker is a charity event and is for a really good cause. There are so many people still living in poverty and if I can do even just a little to help them I will.’
Jaki and the team placed 14th overall out of 152 and aside from finally finishing the Trailwalker, Jaki said the best bit was the sense of accomplishment, as well as getting the opportunity to explore the beautiful scenery of the Taranaki region.
‘I’d say the worst part was the last 10km,’ she added.
‘It was late, dark, and the remaining course was all paved footpath along the coastline…which when you’ve covered 90km, 2200m vertical gain on foot becomes a very hard mind battle.
‘It seemed to just keep going and going. We were all also very tired and each had our own physical aches and pains by that point which we were trying to soldier on through.
‘We are all super stoked with that result but know we could have potentially placed in the top 10 had we not made some wrong turns along the way.’
Almost a week after completing the challenge (March 20) Jaki graduate with a distinction in her Bachelors of Applied Management, majoring in accounting and will soon be embarking on a post graduate qualification through Chartered Accounants Australia New Zealand to become a charted accountant.
Jaki and Alex now have a two-year-old daughter, Robyn, but signing up for the Oxfam Trailwalker has revived a love for hill running that began in Oban and that she hopes to continue.
‘I hadn’t done a lot of running since having kids,’ she said.
‘It gives me solace – being away from everyone and everything gives me time with my own thoughts to reflect on and remember our first daughter daughter Rebecca, and also just to relax after life’s daily going ons.’
Jaki’s fundraising page will remain open until the end of April 30 and can be found at oxfamtrailwalker.org.nz