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'Need to do this': sisters ready for challenge in memory of cousin

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Sisters Danica Austin and Nicole Talbot are set to tackle the inaugural Sunshine Coast Kokoda Challenge as a tribute to their late cousin.

They will take on the 30km walk at Kenilworth to remember Marco Sassetto, who tragically took his life at age 21 late last year.

Marco completed the 96km Gold Coast Kokoda Challenge when he was 16 in 2018, an event that is recalled as a highlight of his high school years.

They will take part in the walk on April 20, on the weekend prior to ANZAC Day. It’s a date that holds deep significance as it would have been Marco’s 22nd birthday.

The Kokoda Challenge, known for its arduous terrain and demanding endurance, marked a journey of mateship for Marco and his school friends.

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Danica reminisced about Marco’s passion for Kokoda, recounting that many of his friends throughout the eulogy at his funeral shared heartfelt stories about their time together during the challenge.

“I knew from the moment I saw that the date was Marco’s birthday, I had to do this,” she said.

Marco Sassetto (centre) and his school friends during the Kokoda Challenge in 2018.

“It is going to be tough, both physically and mentally, but even when training, Marco is there helping me push through. I know on the day, he is going to get me to that finish line.”

Danica and Nicole’s father, now retired, served in the military for 26 years.

His service to the country instilled in them a deep connection to the military, after he served two tours in Afghanistan and two in East Timor.

“Growing up as a military family, we’ve seen first-hand the sacrifices that soldiers make on a daily basis, not just when they are on a tour,” Nicole said.

“Dad has mates from the army that have become lifelong family to us.”

Danica fondly remembers Marco’s musical talent, recalling his trumpet performance of the Last Post at their school’s ANZAC Day service.

Marco and his mum Sue at a checkpoint along the Gold Coast Kokoda Challenge track.

This memory highlighted not only Marco’s musical gift but also his deep connection to commemoration.

“My sister and I need to do this together for our cousin’s memory and to raise awareness on how suicide affects so many lives,” Nicole said.

“Life can be hard and if you need help, please reach out to someone.

“Your family and friends need you in their lives and they want to help you, if you feel like you have no other option, please, please speak to someone.”

The Kokoda Challenge raises funds for local youth programs run by the Kokoda Youth Foundation, engaging and inspiring young people to reach their full potential, a cause that Danica and Nicole are passionate about following the loss of their cousin.

As Danica and Nicole embark on the inaugural Sunshine Coast Kokoda Challenge, they are honouring his memory and raising awareness for mental health. They will also walk in honour of veterans and those who are serving members of the Australian Defence Force.

The Kokoda Challenge is held over various distances on the Gold Coast, Sunshine Coast, Brisbane and Lake Macquarie.

Where to seek help

  • Emergency 000
  • Lifeline 13 11 14
  • Kids Helpline 1800 55 1800
  • MensLine 1300 78 99 78
  • Suicide Call Back Service 1300 659 467

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