Lifting the Load together

[Source: Australian Defence Force]

Their calves hurt, their thighs burnt and sweat pooled beneath them.

Their knees ached on the 995th step but they pushed through with only five more to go.

Knowing the physical load they were experiencing was nothing compared to the mental load of some.

RAAF Sergeants Ryan Pedder and Connor O’Neill stepped up, quite literally, and completed the workout of the day, ‘Chad’, which involved doing 1000 box step-ups while wearing a 10kg weighted vest for charity.

At 200 steps, Sergeant Pedder realised thinking about the next 800 would mentally drain him.

The duo broke the challenge down into reps of 50 with a mark on the whiteboard, applying the same principle they use when breaking down hurdles in life.

“One thousand steps might seem a lot to get through in one big chunk, but not if you break it up into small pieces,” he said.

“It is the same as mental-health problems: don’t look at it as one big problem, break it down into small steps so you can get through it.

“We both joked we couldn’t count past 50 anyway once we got fatigued so we just stuck with that number.”

Sergeant Pedder finished the challenge in 52 minutes 26 seconds and Sergeant O’Neill in 56 minutes 23 seconds.

“At 600 steps I felt a fair bit of lactic build up and I was doing the push on the knees to get up, but looking over and seeing Sergeant Pedder smashing them out gave me the second wind to go and push on,” Sergeant O’Neill said.

The workout honoured Navy SEAL Chad Wilkinson who took his life in 2018 due to the effects of numerous deployments, several traumatic brain injuries, blast wave injuries and PTSD.

“We’re trying to break the stigma of talking about mental health. Maybe if Chad had these tools we’re teaching people he might still be here today,” Sergeant O’Neill said.

“It seemed fitting choosing this workout for the Lift the Load challenge, as it’s all about bringing exposure to mental health.”

Throughout October, members from 2 Operational Conversion Unit signed up to the Lift the Load challenge to carry the physical weight of the vest across 50km to raise money to help the Top Blokes Foundation improve young men’s mental health.

Challenge participants wore their vests in and around the approved areas of their workplace, bringing attention to the charity with branding and QR codes attached to their chest.

The challenge comes after the squadron established the Top Blokes-led program for social development and mental health of young ADF men.

Leading Aircraftman James Hoops joined the challenge and recently completed the program.

He applied techniques delivered on course and is now able to make deeper and more meaningful conversation with people and feels confident supporting his peers.

“I know how to keep conversation flowing if they get shut down,” Leading Aircraftman Hoops said.

“I was always able to ask the question, ‘Are you OK?’ but now I know where to go after that question.”

The challenge has influenced many people and the team is receiving encouraging feedback.

Sergeant O’Neill cracked the 50km mark early into the challenge and set himself a higher target.

He took the vest on a holiday to Bali, where he racked up kilometres on the treadmill – although the machine was not as motivated and stopped functioning from its weighted load.

“I took the sand out of the bags to carry them on board my flight, but was still questioned about why I had six empty black bags on me,” Sergeant O’Neill said.

“It got hairy there for a bit until I explained the challenge to customs. Then it was all good.”

Their goal was to raise $2000, and they cracked that in five days.

Sergeant O’Neill’s brother-in-law, Nicholas Quinn, raised $4625.

After the workout, their figure came to $11,940.

You can donate to RAAF Base Williamtown Top Blokes at