Creating Connection on the Great Ocean Road Health Virtual Hike

2020 has inspired some truly creative ways in which primary health care providers in western Victoria have delivered care.

Great Ocean Road Health (GORH) is one such provider. Before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, GORH facilitated over 10 supervised exercise groups weekly. When the first lockdown was enforced, closures of exercise facilities such as gyms, sporting clubs and rehabilitation facilities created a large void for many who rely upon exercise to maintain good health and wellbeing.

To ensure no one was left behind, GORH (a contracted Chronic Conditions Model of Care (CCMC) provider for Western Victoria PHN (WVPHN)) had to be proactive in the ways they supported and encouraged these activities to enable their residential care clients with chronic conditions to not only remain active but happy and connected. Exercise physiologist Campbell Craig, who has spent three years as an exercise physiologist at Lorne Community Hospital as part of WVPHN’s CCMC program, knew that innovation was key to making a difference.

Pictured: Lorne Community Hospital provides health coaching to its residents as part of WVPHN’s CCMC program. Image attribution: Great Ocean Road Health

“During COVID we had implement telehealth services for health coaching and exercise physiology consultations,” Mr Craig explained. “We also made group health coaching available and found this a valuable forum for people to share the ways they are managing with their routines being completely different and the typical resources not being available.”

The first lockdown brought with it a palpable sense of increasing anxiety that affected clients, staff and community alike. Recognising this, the team decided to extend their care by developing two health, exercise and wellbeing groups on Facebook – one for GORH staff and one for the community. However, they were still looking for more ways to keep their residents moving.

When the second lockdown hit, fatigue and stress started to noticeably wear people down. So, the team came together to develop their best idea yet: the ‘Great Ocean Road Health Virtual Hike’.

Hiking from Home

The GORH team set to work in developing a strategy to inspire exercise and connection. This was achieved by taking clients, staff and the community on a virtual trek that began at Point Impossible in Torquay and finished at the Twelve Apostles. 10,000 steps a day for a month would cover this distance, with the second half of the hike taking place on the famous Great Ocean Walk.

Pictured: The careening Great Ocean Walk (covered in the second half of the virtual hike) which officially starts in Apollo Bay and traces its away along the magnificent Otways coastline to the Twelve Apostles. Image attribution: Great Ocean Road Regional Tourism

To break the journey down, staff recorded short videos of sections of the trail. The videos showcased what was to be virtually covered each day and were released at 6am daily to commence proceedings. The walkthroughs doubled as ‘talkthroughs’, with staff giving insight into each part of the trail using their local knowledge.

The idea rapidly took off, resulting in an even greater reach than intended.

“We were going to keep it low key and available to staff and residents,” explained Mr Craig. “Incredibly, we gained momentum via press releases being sent out, our CEO Sandy Chamberlin jumping on the radio, the local newspapers enjoying a good news story, and so on.”

“Our secret was out! So we scaled up and made it an open invite to all health care workers, staff, community and our residents, who were very familiar with the coastline making this a great way to get them engaged and enjoy experiencing our great outdoors.”

This included people from as near as Colac to as far as metropolitan Melbourne. Participation was beyond what the team had expected. Without prizes or tangible reward, it was encouragement, ‘honourable mentions’ for improving on previous totals and comradery that willed people along their virtual journeys – not to mention the virtual scenery.

Mr Craig said that besides the physical benefits of the hike, the primary focus was keeping people connected.

“We found that the sense of community and connection was motivation enough,” he said. “Teams were incredibly supportive of each other and encouraged each other to do their best and keep going.”

Quality over Quantity

Though reaching 10,000 steps was the daily aim, the GORH team recognised that not everybody was capable of achieving this. Hence, participants were asked to record every 10 minutes spent exercising as 1,000 steps, including strength circuits, yoga, pilates and ‘dance medicine’. Additionally, 10 minutes of mindful meditation was also considered 1,000 steps, with ‘slowing down’ to relax and unwind strongly encouraged.

“Some people were concerned that they were letting their teammates down by not being able to walk for 90 minutes each day,” said Mr Craig. “We wanted to provide plenty of options for people to access and possibly expose people to new forms of exercise they may not have tried before.”

“We really wanted people to feel better for the virtual hike, to challenge themselves but not push beyond their body’s limits.”

This thoughtfulness also led to the idea of the ‘virtual bus’. The bus would ‘pick up’ all participants at the end of the day, ensuring everyone started the next leg together the following morning. Nobody was left behind.

Pictured: One leg of many on the Great Ocean Walk. Image attribution: Great Ocean Road Health

When participants touched off at the start of each day, this simple act made the staff recorded videos even more special.

“The original idea was for the videos to simply show a section of trail,” explained Mr Craig. “What eventuated was really special with staff members’ local knowledge and passion coming through in each and every video. We were all looking forward to what the next day would bring.”

“I recall during the height of increasing case numbers and uncertainty it felt like our world was quickly shrinking. Then, that day, a staff member told us in their video about a species of eel from Painkalac Creek in Airey’s Inlet that migrates 3,000 kilometres to breed in the Coral Sea. Suddenly, our world didn’t seem so small.”

Feedback from participants has been nothing short of heart-warming. One person praised the program for virtually widening their five kilometre radius after three months of lockdown in metro Melbourne. Others said: “I am feeling so fit and healthy, thanks to GORH”. “Tough times, but this made us get out and get going. Our average age is 65, and I had a total knee replacement just under 3 years ago. We like a challenge!”

“During recent months, we’ve all wanted to support each other as best we could, which was difficult,” said Mr Craig. “By participating in the challenge and involving family and friends living in different parts of Victoria, it was possible to check in on each other and chat about the stretch of coastline, the quirky fun facts in the videos and the inventive ways people are getting their daily steps in – all positive ways to stay connected without having to talk about COVID!”

Working Together to Go Above and Beyond

WVPHN congratulates the GORH team for going above and beyond to care for those with chronic conditions and needing connection.

Pictured: What a journey. The Great Ocean Road Health Virtual Hike came to an end at the spectacular 12 Apostles.

Mr Craig said this was a great team effort. “A big thank you to Sibeal and Emily for their hard work in making this happen. It really came together very quickly, but not without effort. Likewise to all the staff who used their weekends, RDOs, annual leave to explore their coastline and create amazing videos.”

“Many people think of exercise as punishment such as burpees and hill sprints and are understandably apprehensive,” said Mr Craig. “Everyone we work with has chronic conditions, so any exercise we do together should make them feel better.”