A couple of months after his fourth placing in the world’s toughest and longest horse race, and Will Comiskey is still on top of the world.
It’s not what you’d expect of someone who said from the outset he wanted to claim an outright win in the Mongol Derby, after his joint win last year, but then he talks about the mental and physical challenges he battled this time round, and you get an understanding of his achievement.
An ordinary season meant the horses supplied needed more nursing than last year, when Will led from the start, and resulted in him being last into the first station with only five horses left to choose from.
He worked his way through the ranks, taking a punt on a river crossing that cut five kilometres off, before joining up with Warren Sutton, a 45-year-old fellow Marcus Oldham graduate.
“The lead had a bit on us so we felt like we were by ourselves,” Will said.
Although the derby was eventually won by 29-year-old Sydney-based Olympic pentathlete, Ed Fernon and 51-year-old Barry Armitage, a former professional sailor-turned-adventurer from South Africa, Will said he felt this year’s race had been a greater achievement for him.
“I’ve claimed the title as the most successful Derbyist to date, with a win and fourth place from two starts, which I was pretty chuffed about.
“You lose about 10 kilograms each race but I love Mongolia and got to experience more of the culture this time.”
As well as seeing lots of two-humped Bactrian camels, and having to camp out with a local family when he didn’t make it into the day’s staging post in time, he learnt more about their relationship with their horses.
“I heard about how big they still are in their life,” Will said. “For example, horses help them make paths in the snow. They couldn’t do that with motorbikes.”
He made the decision this year to wear the traditional Central Asian tunic, known as a deel, throughout the race, to pay tribute to the Mongolian culture, and he was relieved when it was recognised that way.
“I was hesitant at first – I wanted to be taken seriously by the herders – but they loved it.
“They’ve got a better bush telegraph than we do – they were all looking out for me.”
The decision also paid off in acceptance by the horses – they are haunted by “white man smell”, according to Will – and in protection as he battled some of the worst conditions ever experienced by competitors in the 1000km race.
After riding out horizontal rain, sleet and howling winds at the start, the last couple of days were “stinking hot” with not a breath of wind.
It was balanced up with a huge response to his effort back home in Australia, where supporters raised $50,300 for his cause, the Royal Flying Doctor Service.
This is compared to the $16,000 raised last year.
“People donated so generously – I think they realise it’s something we all need at some stage, and there’s such a shortfall they have to make up, every year,” Will said.
In 2016, the service’s fleet of 68 aircraft flew 26,157,502 kilometres, equivalent to 34 trips to the moon and back.
Among those raising money to support Will’s RFDS cause were 27 members of Joy McClymont’s Off the Track Training group, who donated a dollar for every kilometre covered, either running, walking or cycling.
One woman, Pauline Davidson, covered 104km by herself. The total amount raised was $1360.
All the efforts people went to made Will extra happy he’d returned this year to challenge himself again, especially in the face of the very different mental test he faced.
“Last year I was winging it but this time round, I knew what was coming,” Will explained. “It was a mental disadvantage in that I knew what could go wrong, but in a way, that was an advantage too.”
“I learnt a lot more about myself and I’m bloody glad I went back.”