Former Aussie Olympian Ji Wallace has embarked on an expedition along the historic Kokoda trail to challenge the stigma around living with HIV.
Wallace, who won silver for Australia at the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games and publicly revealed his HIV status in 2012, partnered with the HIV Foundation Queensland last November to lead the 96-kilometre “Kokoda+: Stronger Than You Think” trek in Papua New Guinea.
On Monday, after months of training, Wallace and 20 other HIV positive people and their supporters set off on the 10-day hike to raise awareness of HIV and challenge the stigma associated with it.
“I’ve always been an athletic type of fella, so I’m not going to let something like HIV slow me down or stop me. I’ve still got big dreams and big goals,” Wallace said of the trek.
“It’s still a common misconception that just because I have HIV, I’m in some way not as capable or physically able as others – and nothing could be further from the truth.
“This is a trek to level the playing field and to show the world that no matter your struggle, no matter your ailment, no matter where you come from or whatever you have been handed in life: it does not define you.
“When you work hard, sacrifice and forge ahead towards your future, you will find there is no limit to your ability.”
The Kokoda trail is a narrow path through mountainous PNG rainforest, legendary for its treacherous conditions and perilous terrain. This year is the 75th anniversary of the battle fought by Australians at the historic site during World War II.
Wallace said Kokoda is “ingrained in the Australia psyche and identifies our fighting spirit, our mateship and our sacrifice.”
“My grandfather was a signalman on Kokoda during the war so I’ve got a personal interest, we’re trekking for my grandfather,” he said.
“But doing this, this is me telling people, especially those that have lived with HIV for such a long time, that HIV doesn’t define you.”
The Kokoda journey is being recorded and the footage will be turned into a documentary to be released later this year.