THEY say people should not limit their challenges, but challenge their limits and Moss Vale resident Harriet Nixon knows this all too well.
From a young age Harriet always enjoyed a challenge and has kept this mindset as she worked hard to complete the three levels and many years of the Duke of Edinburgh Program Award.
After years of persistence and commitment, Harriet was awarded the Gold Duke of Edinburgh award in December at Government House in Melbourne. She was met by the Governor General and received a certificate that was signed by Prince Phillip.
"I feel a great sense of achievement and accomplishment after all those years of hard work and I definitely feel some relief as well," Harriet said.
"Government House was amazing and I felt very proud to be there. It's a highly regarded award and you're rewarded for your efforts."
The 18-year-old started her high school education at Oxley College, but after two years decided that she wanted something more strenuous. With nothing but determination in her mind, Harriet moved interstate to Victoria, where she attended Geelong Grammar in Year 9 and completed the Timbertop year.
"I wanted to go to Geelong for the Timbertop experience because of the unique adventure it offers," she said.
"It involved lots of running, hiking, completing services and school work of course."
"It was a great opportunity that made me resilient, mature and independent and I loved it."
With adventure in her mind, Harriet began the Duke of Edinburgh Award Program toward the end of Year 8 at Oxley College.
Harriet completed the bronze and silver levels of the award at Geelong Grammar before she reached Year 10 and decided to return to the Highlands for her third last year at high school. In Year 10, Harriet started the Gold Duke of Edinburgh Award at Oxley College.
Harriet's time in the Highlands was short, as she found herself drawn back to Geelong Grammar in Year 11. She completed her final years of high school at Geelong as well as her gold Duke of Edinburgh.
"It has been quite a life changing experience, which has provided me with unique opportunities and the pleasure of connecting with very special people at Oxley College, Timbertop, Geelong Grammar and others around Australia and the world," she said.
"The gold award is broken down into five activity sections including skill, service, physical recreation/fitness, adventurous journey and residential project and after beginning it half way through Year 10, I finished it halfway through Year 12."
As part of the gold award, Harriet worked at Bowral Hospital's Emergency Ward for six months. During this time she assisted the nurses with their work and found the experience as one of the most challenging.
"It was quite confronting at times, but it was a great experience and gave me great appreciation for the dedication shown by doctors, nurses and paramedics who work in such a critical environment," Harriet said.
To add to Harriet's list of achievements, she participated in the Karen Homework Club, which helps refugees in the Geelong area with their homework.
Participating in the Gold Duke of Edinburgh took Harriet to Holland, where she stayed with a Dutch family and attended KSG Apeldoorn for a week.
"We rode bikes to school each day and learnt so much about their culture," she said.
"I was fortunate enough to visit the battlefields in Belgium, France and Turkey, including a visit to Gallipoli, I found it all confronting but it was a great experience. I never did history as a subject but it is an interest of mine."
Overnight hikes and camping in the rain were all part of the experience for Harriet who learnt resilience, independence and how to survive without technology at her feet.
"I completed the qualifying journey in Tasmania. It went for five nights and six days and we walked about 12kms each day, with one big day where we walked 20kms," she said.
"We all cooked our own food, stayed in huts each night and only had a satellite phone for security."
Harriet completed these physically and mentally challenging adventures while she completed her high school years. Most students would feel the pressure of juggling both but even in her final year of high school Harriet enjoyed each experience that was given to her.
"Because I enjoyed it all it wasn't a struggle and there was never a moment where it was too hard. It was challenging but definitely worth it," she said.
"Oxley College and Geelong Grammar were both very good with how they provided opportunities to complete the award and they were very supportive."
Harriet has just completed the HSC but her studies in the final two years of school were different to most. Harriet chose to complete the International Baccalaureate, which is the international version of the HSC.
Her final mark will convert into an ATAR but it is recognised internationally and was another challenge that Harriet wanted to overcome.
As Harriet waits for these results, she has decided to take a year off to work and travel before she returns to study.