10 CHALLENGES, 10 MONTHS, $10,000, 1 WOMAN

Monique Bortoli is a woman on a mission. The Port Stephens trail runner and mountain biker is set to complete 10 gruelling challenges within 10 months to raise $10,000 for the Yacaaba Centre, a support centre for those experiencing domestic abuse. Why? Because each week, on average, at least one Australian woman is killed at the hands of a current or former partner, and Monique’s not about to let this devastating fact go unnoticed.

Monique only got into trail running a couple of years ago. It started as a dare, when a friend challenged her to complete Ultra-Trail, a 22km run in the Blue Mountains. Monique hadn’t run since she was a kid. “When I started running, I couldn’t make it to the end of the street – I could barely breathe!” she laughs. Now, the 45-year-old grandmother trains six days a week and has completed a few 50km runs. It was through this newfound love of adventure that she came up with a way to give back to the Yacaaba Centre – a place that helped her several years ago while she was experiencing emotional abuse. She set a fundraising goal of $10,000 and planned a series of physical challenges to draw attention to domestic violence. “I wanted to do something that was going to continuously open the conversation and make a difference,” she says.

The challenges Monique has chosen are no walk in the park. In January, she completed her first: a 56km stand up paddle board trip. Despite having to reroute in the face of 45km/h winds, she had plenty of fun. But these challenges also have a sombre side. Her most recent, at Mount Tomaree over Easter, was particularly significant. Over 36 hours, with only a couple of hours sleep, Monique hiked 95km. She completed 79 laps of the mountain: one lap for each woman whose life was taken through domestic violence in Australia in 2018. “I wanted to do something to honour them. They have lost their voice. They can no longer fight. We have to do it for them,” she says. She’s witnessed an outpouring of support for her campaign and has heard from many who’ve experienced domestic abuse. “It’s been quite incredible. The stories I’ve heard have been heartbreaking, horrific, inspiring. It blows me away, what we can deal with; that you’re still able to be a good person after what you’ve been through.”

Monique’s own story is one of healing and growth. Getting active outdoors has completely transformed her life. “The outdoors has helped me heal. It’s helped me get my confidence back. If you look at nature and you treat it properly – leave no trace, take care of it – it gives so much back to you. It has so much to give you and doesn’t ask anything in return.” She started a blog, Elemental Adventures, to share her journey and encourage others to get outside. It’s since evolved into a small business, selling t-shirts, hoodies, and hats. More than that, it’s a community of like-minded individuals, and for Monique, community is key. She encourages everyone to “Give back and make a difference. We can all do it. Everyone can give back to their community”.

As long as domestic violence continues to affect people, Monique will keep raising awareness. Her next challenge is on the June long weekend, where she’ll be doing the 24-48 hour adventure race, GeoQuest, with some girlfriends. If you’d like to follow her progress or support her fundraising efforts, click here.

Words by Amy O’Toole