Riding above pandemics

RideWest 2020 on track for biggest fundraising year yet

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The RideWest team and support crew preparing to set off from Pumps N Solar at Roma for day four of the 1240km journey. Picture: Sally Gall

The RideWest team and support crew preparing to set off from Pumps N Solar at Roma for day four of the 1240km journey. Picture: Sally Gall

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Cameraderie, mateship, call it what you will - it's the ingredient that keeps men like Steve Eussen and Greg Hefferan coming back for more torture at the wheels of their bicycles every two years.

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Cameraderie, mateship, call it what you will - it's the ingredient that keeps men like Steve Eussen and Greg Hefferan coming back for more torture at the wheels of their bicycles every two years.

For each, this is the fifth time they've donned the lycra and prepared with a training regime a few months long, to have the pleasure of taking part in RideWest.

Now in its 10th year, the seven-day boutique charity bike ride that aims to raise funds and help raise awareness of mental health issues in regional Australia is gaining icon status both along the route and among the urban-based corporate sponsors putting up their hand to make a difference.

Read more: RideWest bike marathon photos

Thanks to the global COVID-19 pandemic, the event was a non-starter in April but the passion for the cause saw organisers move through the many challenges to make it happen in October.

The 29 riders, Steve Eussen among them, are discovering that it's a little bit warmer in October, and the wind blows hard from the north.

"The day to Blackall's going to be very ordinary," he said, recalling the rugged 219km stretch north west from Augathella from past years.

He jokingly says on his fundraising page that the false start created by COVID gave him a much-needed extra six months to train, up and down surburban Brisbane hills rather than the flat country of his former home at Longreach, but you can see that he's loving reconnecting with the bush again.

He said he understood mental health support was still much-needed in the bush.

Fellow five-time rider, Brisbane's Greg Hefferan said mental health issues were more prevalent these days, in all walks of life, but he felt it was more pronounced the more isolated a person was.

His father was a doctor in Collinsville in the 1960s and worked with the Royal Flying Doctor Service at the time, saying he always spoke highly of their work.

"To get RFDS help out there where people might think they're alone, it's a wonderful thing," he said. "And that's the thing about our funding, it goes directly to that cause."

On track for biggest year yet

Halfway through the 2020 charity bike ride, the donation meter was standing at $296,000, an astounding amount in the circumstances.

RideWest communications manager Tanya Minton said considering the year that people had experienced, it was an amazing response.

Prior to this year, RideWest had raised more than $1 million for the RFDS Wellbeing Out West mental health service.

The service, which provides free of charge mental health education, one-on-one counselling and support to people living and working in remote and rural parts of western Queensland, was born out of a 2017 RFDS research paper entitled Mental Health in Rural and Remote Communities.

It revealed that remote Australians die on average from suicide at twice the rate of city people, yet are only able to access mental health services at a fifth of the rate of city people.

It also identified farmers as among the most at risk of suicide.

The service that came into being as a result is targeted towards anyone experiencing tough times because of worsening weather conditions.

Services are delivered exclusively by mental health clinicians, allowing the people to connect with clinicians at events such as community based mental health workshops, pit stop health checks or via training for remote station managers and staff.

Last year the RFDS (Queensland section) provided support to more than 7500 people across western Queensland.

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"We want to save lives through early intervention. Get the word out. Make it normal. Make it accessible. Make it quality," RFDS spokesman Dr Tim Driscoll said. "The funds raised by RideWest are the backbone of this program."

RideWest director John Sloman said 2020 had been a challenging year for all, but now more than ever they wanted to be able to support regional Aussies doing it tough and be able to support the RFDS program.

Steve Eussen and ride captain Rob Sendall.

Steve Eussen and ride captain Rob Sendall.

As he slathered on sunscreen and filled up his water bottle for the next leg of the ride out of Roma, Steve Eussen said it was a similar sort of support that attracted him to RideWest.

"Yesterday was a sort of tough day, but we got to the end and that's the main thing," he said. "You just check on the bloke next to you and off you go."

The story Riding above pandemics first appeared on Queensland Country Life.

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