Temel back on the road, determined to complete peace pilgrimage

JOHN BISSET/STUFF
Temel Atacocugu is determined to complete his Walk for Peace. However, after two days in hospital and bad blisters on his feet he has decided to finish his journey on an e-bike.

Temel Atacocugu is determined to complete his Walk for Peace and has swapped pounding the pavements with pedal power.

After two nights in Timaru Hospital with a blood infection, Temel Atacocugu is back on the road and determined to complete what he started – a 350-kilometre journey from Dunedin to Christchurch.

Atacocugu – who was shot nine times in the terrorist attack at Al Noor Mosque in Christchurch – started on foot, but eight days in, with severe blistering to his feet, stomach pains and a fever he was admitted to hospital on Tuesday.

With the health issues causing a change of plans, and walking all but out of the question, Atacocugu is determined to retrace the route the terrorist took when he travelled from Dunedin to Christchurch on March 15, 2019, and “reclaim it for peace”, he said.

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On Thursday, just after being discharged from hospital, he was at a cycle shop in Timaru, familiarising himself with the e-bike that will take him from Makikihi to Rolleston.

“Nothing can stop me,’’ Atacocugu told The Timaru Herald.

Timaru’s DC Cycles owner Darren Cuthbertson said he was sad to hear Atacocugu’s issues on the walk, and was pleased to be able to help out with a hefty discount.

He was confident the seven gear hybrid e-bike would give the right amount of assistance to help Atacocugu complete his journey, and said the back-up car, flashing lights and other precautions would help ensure his safety.

Temel Atacocugu visited Timaru's DC Cycles after being released from hospital on Thursday, where owner Darren Cuthbertson helped set the novice cyclist up with an e-bike and related equipment.
JOHN BISSET/Stuff
Temel Atacocugu visited Timaru's DC Cycles after being released from hospital on Thursday, where owner Darren Cuthbertson helped set the novice cyclist up with an e-bike and related equipment.

“State Highway 1's probably one of the wider roads – you do have trouble on the bridges, that's the worry, you’ve got to get across them as safely as you can,’’ Cuthbertson said.

“You can use it like a normal bike, and there's different levels of assistance – you can decide by how tired your legs are or how tough the conditions are as to how much you use.”

Cuthbertson said he knew some of Temel's story.

“It's horrendous, such a sad day that someone in New Zealand has to do something like this, but hopefully it raises awareness and make everyone else safer in the future.”

So far Atacocugu has raised more than $42,000 for three charities (I am Hope, Save the Children and the Child Cancer Foundation) since he struck out walking from Dunedin's Octagon on March 1.

Atacocugu said the journey had been personally healing too, with the warm response he has received along the way helping to lower some of the defences his trauma had built up since the deadly attack, which killed 51 people and injured 40.

Temel Atacocugu gets set to complete his Walk for Peace with Timaru’s DC Cycle’s owner Darren Cuthbertson getting him set up on an e-bike.
JOHN BISSET/Stuff
Temel Atacocugu gets set to complete his Walk for Peace with Timaru’s DC Cycle’s owner Darren Cuthbertson getting him set up on an e-bike.

“At the beginning [of the walk] I was nervous about being abused verbally or physically by extremists, and it hasn't happened.

“Instead, people on the way have been welcoming and supportive. Before that I was so scared, nervous, thinking are they going to help me or hurt me – until they came and showed they were friendly, supportive, positive.

“My trauma makes me feel like that, my anxiety, my nervous system is always defending me. But this walk is helping me to feel safe again, I haven't felt like that in the past three years.”

His plan is to cycle under his own steam as much as possible for the remaining 170km, relying on the e-bike's two 250W motors for back up.

He will still walk the final 21km journey from Rolleston to Al Noor Mosque on the morning of the anniversary, and said a number of supporters plan to join him for at least a section of the last leg.

Temel Atacocugu and partner Mel Logan said they had been touched by the support of South Canterbury residents.
JOHN BISSET/Stuff
Temel Atacocugu and partner Mel Logan said they had been touched by the support of South Canterbury residents.

His partner, Mel Logan, said the pair had been touched by the support they had received along the way, especially during their unexpected stay in South Canterbury.

She said people from organisations such as Multicultural Aoraki, and I am Hope had been “wonderful”.

“They've kept in touch all the way, taken a real interest in how he’s doing. Everybody has been asking 'what do you need?’, and have been ready to help with whatever they can.”