A Guest Post by Dr. Elizabeth Shoesmith – CEO & Founder of The Inclusive Foundation


Have you heard of the Oxfam Trailwalker event? In a nutshell, you hike 100km through the bush in a team of four within 48 hours (if you choose to sleep) or less if you continue non stop. Let me be clear – it is not a relay! You start with your team, stick with your team and finish with your team. That means you all walk the whole 100km together.


Now this is no walk in the park, it is tough going up and down mountains and on narrow rocky tracks. As you start out there are lots of teams around you and then that starts to thin out as the runners (yes some crazy people run the whole 100km) bound ahead and others drop back as they pace themselves to take the full 48 hours. Then there are those in the middle planning to hike the whole distance with no sleep and likely to finish somewhere between 24 and 30 hours. We were one of those teams.


We trained and we planned and we had a great support crew to meet us at the check points which were roughly every 4-hours. However, things rarely go according to plan…


7-hours into the hike we lost a team member as she had to retire because her body just wasn’t up to the task on the day. We were then down to three.


9-hours into the hike I had a fall. In fact I stacked it twice! While the severity of injuries weren’t clear until I was to get home the next day – it did slow me down somewhat at the time and required me to be more conscious in how and where I was stepping as darkness set in.


For the next 10km I walked in the dark, in the bush, alone.


13-hours into the hike my other two team members wanted to go faster than I was capable of. So they left me behind to hike on my own. For the next 10kms I walked in the dark, in the bush, alone. That was lonely, sucked, and was tough. I was also struggling to reconcile this with the Oxfam principles of starting, staying, and finishing with your team.


17-hours into the hike at the next checkpoint we lost another team member. She was burnt out, dehydrated and feeling sick. It is now 12.30am and my final team mate insisted she couldn’t walk at my pace because it was too slow for her (despite us still arriving at the checkpoints in the top 25% of teams). I was walking at my full capacity. She was expecting me to retire so she could go on without me. The Oxfam volunteers were wonderfully supportive and encouraged me to be strong and not be bullied into retiring. So they partnered us with another team of two young men in their early 20s. We were underway again by 1am. Shortly thereafter my original team mate strode into the darkness and left us behind. My new team then confided in me that my original team mate had told them before we set off that she wanted them to leave me with a slower team once we were underway. They were shocked that someone would think like that and unequivocally said they would never do that to anyone and that a team is a team.


Together we were achieving more by being flexible and adapting to each others’ needs.


18-hours into the hike I suddenly found strength in this new team. When someone was in pain we would give each other strength. When someone needed to stop we would all stop. These young men whom I had only met in the middle of the night were true team mates. Together we were achieving more by being flexible and adapting to each others’ needs.


The next leg from 4am to 8am was tough. It was raining hard, the track was covered in water, and we were fatigued. At one stage one of my team mates asked if I was awake – and I suddenly realised I wasn’t! I was micro sleeping while walking. At that stage I knew it was time to acknowledge that to continue would be unsafe as the next leg was steep and narrow with barbed wire fences. I didn’t fancy falling again either! At the next checkpoint I handed my walking poles to one of the guys in my team as his ankles were giving him grief and I knew the poles would help take the strain off his joints and assist him in completing the whole 100kms (both of my new team mates made it to the finish line in a time of 30 hours).


25-hours into the hike I retired after hiking non-stop for 82kms. Several days later and my toes are so bruised I’m likely to be wearing sandals for the next 6-months (while all the toenails fall off), there is swelling on the back of my left knee resembling some of the mountains we climbed, there is a bruise the size of a small country on my right hip, and my tail bone is so bruised I can’t sit or stand up straight.


More people got further and achieved more than they could have alone


If you’re scratching your head on what this had to do with me learning something about inclusion…let me try and summarise…


My first team was only a team while my capability and capacity suited them, and as soon as it didn’t I was left behind and even asked to exclude myself. Ultimately in that team only one person crossed the finish line, at the cost of all others. In my new team I was immediately accepted regardless that I was double their age and injured. Because I was included my performance increased and I added value to their team. More people got further and achieved more than they could have alone – included and together.


This post originally appeared on Elizabeth Shoesmith’s blog and is reposted here with full permission.


You can join Elizabeth at The Thriving Workplace Event in Sydney, 27 & 28 August 2019 where you’ll co-create real actions for inclusion in any team or organisation. Secure your place now!

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