96km in one day
It was around 9pm on Friday night that Zane decided to attempt walking 96km, the length of the Kokoda Track, in just one day, walking from Stockton to Newcastle’s Merewether Beach and back.
Having conquered the challenge back in 2021, Zane, who is no stranger to a challenge, knew this year would be a lot more physically demanding, having undergone three recent surgeries in the past four months, while also struggling with a foot injury.
Overcome with determination early on Saturday morning, Zane set off with a goal.
24km in and greeted with a picturesque view of the sun rising over the iron silhouettes of our country’s heroes at Newcastle’s ANZAC Memorial Walk, Zane reflected on his own time serving in Defence. He was filled with an overwhelming sense of pride while paying tribute to the brave soldiers who fought in Kokoda in World War II.
Kitted head to toe in March On merchandise, Zane was met with an abundance of waves and smiles. He recalls how a lady out walking just before dawn stopped him to ask about what he was doing. She told him of how her sister was a veteran and passed away by suicide. A motorcyclist proudly displaying his ribbons on his motorbike jacket nodded on his way past, signifying the gratitude from those with a mutual understanding and respect for those participating in the challenge.
On his way back, Zane stopped atop the Stockton Bridge and recounted his own mental struggles, one of the many reasons why he feels so deeply for the cause.
“Six months ago, I planned to take my own life here. Crossing this bridge twice today for March On goes to show that I have the ability to help others, and by people signing up to March On, they’re helping veterans like me.”
Who is Zane Duce?
Zane was born and brought up in Brisbane, often moving around throughout his childhood amid his parents’ separation, he spent a lot of time with his grandparents and some time in foster care. He notes that he was often surrounded by drugs and alcohol, and there was never a great deal of stability in his life.
From a young age, Zane always had a deep love for the military. He looked up to and admired family members who served and recalls his obsession with creating miniature battlefields out of soldier figurines in the backyard.
Despite labelling himself as “not much of an academic”, Zane graduated high school in Brisbane city and focused his attention on what next step he would take.
It was his grandparents who helped him enlist in the first place. After taking the young 17-year old to the Brisbane show, Zane found himself at an ADF information stall face-to-face with brochures advertising life in Defence. Fast forward to early 2006, Zane was amid the newest group of young starry-eyed Air Force recruits in Adelaide commencing their military career.
Serving in uniform
After graduating from the Airfield Defence Guard training at Amberley in August 2006, Zane received his blue beret, which was a huge achievement and became a prized possession. He spent a lot of time away from home, being posted to various field exercises at Shoalwater Bay, Townsville, Tindal, and Tasmania.
“I didn’t have much connection to my family, so I was happy to be away. My role helped a lot because growing up, I didn’t have much stability, and the military was stable. It became my family.”
But being a part of the military didn’t come without its challenges.
“We worked hard and let our hair down at night. There was a huge drinking culture, which definitely kick-started my addiction to alcohol. Being Indigenous, I experienced a bit of discrimination too, but didn’t speak up because they were my ‘mates’.” A culture, he says, is thankfully being weeded out.
October of 2010 saw Zane off on his first deployment to Pakistan on humanitarian operations after major flooding, helping to rebuild affected areas, set up a major medical facility and help in providing adequate healthcare.
In 2012, he was deployed to Afghanistan on rotation SECFOR1. This deployment came about only eight days after his daughter was born. Being away for training for most of the pregnancy, this deployment, in particular, caused a great deal of stress, sacrificing major milestones to be embedded within highly stressful and dangerous situations at the multi-national Base, Tarin Kot.
Both deployments were cultural eye-openers for Zane. Having to always be on high alert with the stress of trying to keep his mates safe, and the pressure of seeing how others lived with a limited capacity to help, unwilling to speak up, Zane found both deployments starting to take a toll on his mental health.
Once arriving home in Australia, Zane found himself at a breaking point. After three times in rehab, Zane hit rock bottom and decided to stop drinking and get help.
“Rehab made me get honest with myself. I learned three things – One: get honest with yourself; Two; you have to speak up; and Three: you have to start changing things.”
It was at this point in his life that Zane was introduced to Soldier On. The Pathways team helped refine the tools he already had from Defence and guided him to map out where he wanted to go.
Soldier On helped in the job application process and refined his IT skills. He ended up getting a role with BAE and left the military on 27th February 2020, starting his new role and stepping into civilian life not even two weeks later.
Later on, when looking for a career that would enable him to give back to the veteran community directly, Zane joined Soldier On as Human Resources Manager.
“I was able to reconnect with my daughter through work with Soldier On – I have an incredibly supportive boss and work environment. In the military, at any time you could look left or right, and you knew that someone was there for you. I still have that sense to give back to veterans to show I am still here for them, that’s what led me to Soldier On.”
The end of March this year marks 193 weeks of sobriety for Zane. In completing March On this year, Zane is not only walking the length of the Kokoda Track twice but bears testament to the strength he has shown in overcoming adversity time and time again.
“I’ve lost mates I served with through suicide and will always promote the March On message. Some days I might be physically strong, but not mentally. Some days I might be mentally strong, but not physically – but I keep pushing through.”
Today, Zane serves as an inspiration to many. Through supporting fellow participants in their journey, and having raised over $12,000 as of March 9th, Zane is making a meaningful and significant difference by serving on with March On.
If you would like to support Zane in his journey, or get involved with March On, please click: March On Challenge – Zane Duce