He walked, he struggled, but with heavy-as-lead legs, catching a glimpse of ear to ear smiles and audible cheers in the distance, made those final steps feel like gliding on sweet air.
After a mammoth 564 kilometres, Cronulla's Troy Willoughby (Willo) was welcomed home on November 17, marking the end of an epic walk, from the summit of Mount Kosciusko to Sutherland Shire.
It was the celebration of 'Willo's Walk' - a trekking adventure close to the heart of the father-of-two, who became affectionately known in his inner circle as the 'real Forrest Gump'.
Willo had set out on November 10, battling heat, exhaustion and blisters, all to raise money for the Chumpy Pullin Foundation and for youth mental health.
His goal was to raise $50,000, and he smashed it - raising more than $63,000. Still nursing lower leg pain, the toughest day was about half-way in, when he clocked up 100km in one day.
Heading towards the last hurdle, Willo was paddled by Port Hacking Outrigger Canoe teams, who met him at Bundeena, taking him to Salmon Haul Reserve.
His wife Nina and two children Indigo and Arlo, and friends, joined him for the final three kilometre walk to South Cronulla beach, and at the finish line was a red carpet roll-out. The final leg of the journey was swimming out to a buoy with his supporters alongside the Cronulla Gropers.
"Coming around the point and seeing my supporters welcoming me home was an amazing finish," Willo said.
"Starting in Mt Kosciuszko was special because I do lots of treks there. Going through bush, dirt roads and rugged territory - was beautiful, but I don't think you can finish it any better than coming through the Royal National Park."
From jumping over a snake on the first day, to listening to messages of support instead of music, Willo was regularly joined by strangers and locals of the town he was in at the time.
"When I wasn't feeling the greatest, it had such a positive impact," he said. "People who went through the hurt locker and came through the other side, like Blake Johnston, also gave me a call a couple of times with some advice.
"Even though it's my name in the spotlight around all of this, it's not me achieving it - it's every person who sent me a message and walked with me."
Advocating for mental health was the main mission.
"I have had my battles with realising and finally being diagnosed with an anxiety issue, and more recently with adult ADHD, which on reflection has probably been there my whole life," Willo said. "It's only now I'm starting to understand and embrace it.
"Reflecting also on losing one of my best friends to suicide in 2017, and growing up, close friends went through horrendous tragedies in their families. There was never any focus on the mental fitness side of it.
"We are always taught to be physically fit. I coach an AFL and soccer team and it's great the kids are being physically fit but we need to set them up to be mentally fit."
The NSW Government recently announced a one-off $50,000 boost to men's mental health support service, The Man Walk Australia, which is a charity focused on improving the mental health of men and reducing the nation's suicide rates through the delivery of opportunities to support men, including regular organised walks to 'walk and talk.'
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