Hawaiian Ride for Youth comes full circle for 20th anniversary year
Wet and tired, Wayne Bradshaw is just about to dig his teeth into a hot muffin, refuelling as he takes a break from the mammoth 700km cycle ride he and his friends have challenged themselves to. It’s at that moment he spots a man, clearly homeless, coming towards the group.
“It is pouring with rain and we are stopped at the service station to get some soup and some warm muffins and out of the bush comes this guy. He comes up and asked what the ride is about.”
It is 2003 and Wayne is one of 24 Floreat Primary School parents who have bonded through their mutual love of cycling. While enjoying their social rides together, they feel it would be good to have a bigger challenge — and so the Hawaiian Ride for Youth is born.
Twenty years — and $26 million raised for child mental health charity Youth Focus — later, it is still that first ride, which raised $150,000, and that homeless man that motivates Wayne most.
After explaining to the man that they were riding through extreme cyclonic conditions to raise funds for a charity that aims to give children a brighter future, he does something that surprises them all.
“This guy digs his hand in his pocket and gives us $2. I reckon it might have even been his last $2.
“That was an unbelievably humbling experience. We’re sitting there munching on our muffins, and he comes out of the bush, dirty and bedraggled and offers up kindness — two bucks — it was just . . . wow.”
Wayne, whose day job is chief executive of WestCycle, uses the story to illustrate the importance of the work Youth Focus does — it’s something so fundamental that anyone and everyone can understand its power, even a man with nothing sees it as more important than his next meal.
And it’s the importance of the cause that has driven those involved in Ride for Youth into making it Australia’s premier charity event for the prevention of youth suicide and depression.
In 2022, a record number of riders will take on the 700km journey from Albany to Perth over four and a half days, split into four pelotons.
As part of the 20th anniversary celebrations, 16 of the original 24 riders who started the event in 2003, will ride alongside their now-fully grown sons and daughters on the original route as part of a “heritage peloton”, sponsored by BHP.
Joining Wayne and his son Jack, 30, this year will be another original rider, Peter Trench, and his son James, who at 23 is one of the youngest participants.
I think on the ride, I think it’s always sobering, if you’re doing it a bit tough or you’re getting worn out, you kind of remind yourself why you’re doing it. You’re doing it for people who have got bigger problems than just being exhausted on a cycle ride.
This will be the first ride for both the “second-generationers” and, like all the other participants, they’ve been training since October last year.
With a background in professional triathlon and cycling, Peter has led the coaching since the first year and he says the event is a big commitment, not only in terms of time but also financially as every rider needs a good bike (starting at about $2000), plus all the other kit to match. Each rider also has to cover a $1600 registration fee on top of pledging to raise a minimum of $5000 for Youth Focus.
Despite the gruelling demands, the event has up to 50 first-timers with no previous long-distance cycling experience ready to tackle the challenge this year.
“We want to bring brand new riders or new riders into the program every year,” Peter says. “We set a challenge to ride it at a certain pace and a certain way, and I guess those things are important to us today — it still needs to be a physical and mental challenge, because I think that inspires the riders in training, and obviously during the ride — so we do need the 20 weeks or 25 weeks to train them.
“It’s a really good program, we’ve got the support of 20 coaches because it’s such a big bunch of riders, particularly this year being the 20th year.”
During the first phase of training, which is about 10 weeks, riders are expected to be on their bikes for a minimum of 200km a week.
“So that’s a Tuesday or Thursday midweek ride and a longer Saturday ride,” says Peter. “The last 12 weeks, we’re stepping it up between somewhere around 250km to 300km, so it is a big commitment.”
To ensure each rider has the best support, they are placed into teams with a captain and a corporate sponsor.
“It’s a program that doesn’t allow people to fall through the cracks,” Peter says. “It’s pretty scientific. We use Strava to track all of our riders, and my job, as well as the other coaches, is to ensure that all riders are hitting the check marks every month.
“Of course, we get the odd injury, but we have a really good support mechanism to get them back on the road safely and fit for ride week. I think probably the only riders who feel as though they’re a bit daunted are, probably our brand new riders who have never done it before. So of course, they’re going to be nervous, but they’ve done the training and they feel confident they can complete the ride.”
WACA chief executive Christina Matthews knows all about how nerve-racking that first ride can be having first taken part in 2016 despite cycling not being a natural fit for her to start with.
“Someone I knew was involved, and so encouraged me to get involved,” Christina says. “And it took a lot of persuading! I discovered a few deficiencies in my abilities through cycling.
“But it’s a good way to get fit. You know, as you get older, running becomes harder and harder and so it’s a nice way to get fit, meet new people and also know you’re doing something for a good cause at the same time.
“And you know what’s really great about it is when you are struggling, because there’s a mixture of first-year riders and experienced riders, when you’re struggling there’s always a much stronger rider that comes up and checks on you and just gives you a gentle helping hand on your back to get you through. It’s a small thing that makes you get through that hill that’s causing yours with all the grief.
“I think seeing over and over people who have never ridden before, decided to do it, and going from completely hopeless on their first ride, to being able to finish the ride and their sense of accomplishment with doing that — and coming back again the next year — it’s a really heartwarming thing.
“To see people who think they couldn’t do that, and finally get to a space where they’re fit enough to do it. And they’ve broken through perceived barriers, and feeling not good enough to get up those hills, to being able to do it.”
In 2020, Christina stepped up to become chair of the ride, her decision to do so in part based on her own lived experience of losing her dad to suicide when she was just 17.
“Mental health and suicide is something that’s been part of my family,” she says. “Those sorts of things have impacts that sometimes you don’t realize for many years after. And (in my case) it was in an era where you also couldn’t admit that someone in your family had (taken their own life). And so I understand the need, and also just a growing need, in our young people for mental health support.
“There’s been a big push out in the last five or six years to get more gender balance in the ride. So I think that they were looking for a female chair this time. And, you know, I’ve been in sports administration my whole life. So I thought I could help.
“You know, it’s amazing when you get involved in a role that I’ve now got with the ride, to learn just how much work goes into making it happen. Certainly makes you stop whinging about things that maybe don’t go right every now and then.
“The thing that glues it together is the camaraderie across people who, at one point are elite riders and at the other people who are complete novices working together,” Christina says.
“I think the great thing about the ride this year is there are 50 women on the road, which is the most we’ve ever had. And from all walks of life.”
In a testament to the ride’s diversity, Peter Bath, will take to the road for the second time this year at the age of 80.
Described as “a force of nature”, the retired orthopaedic surgeon follows the same program of training as all the other riders, who have given him an affectionate new nickname — Junior.
Christina says, tongue firmly in cheek, that Junior can make some of them feel a little inadequate as he “whizzes past them”.
“But he’s an amazing bloke,” she says “We’re all just amazed at how he does it. And you know, it’s a testament to keeping fit. I’d like to say I’d be the same at his age, but who knows?”
Like most events over the past two years, COVID has affected the ride, but Wayne, Peter and Christina all say rather than dampening their enthusiasm, it makes them all the more determined to make the event bigger and better each year.
Even when virus restrictions meant the 2020 ride had to be cancelled, riders still raised almost $1.9m for Youth Focus, boosted by the sense of community among the participants.
This year, the committee was devastated when the traditional visits to schools along the ride’s route had to be scrapped because of virus restrictions. The visits see the riders share their stories with students with the support of qualified counsellors to help answer any questions that might pop up.
Peter is saddened that his son won’t get to take part in the school visits this year to share his struggles with anxiety, which is just another of the reasons he is so dedicated to the Youth Focus cause.
“Certainly because James has had anxiety, and probably still has a bit of anxiety, it’s probably even closer to home now because I have him running beside me.
“We go into the schools, we talk to the kids, we hear stories, so I guess it drives us harder to ensure that we can ride faster and raise more money. But unfortunately, this year, we’re not getting that opportunity to go into the schools. And that would have been a fantastic opportunity for James and the other young ones to really connect with the kids.
“And I think the kids would connect with our with those guys, too.”
Christina says school visits are usually one of the most profound parts of the ride for her.
“I think on the ride, I think it’s always sobering, if you’re doing it a bit tough or you’re getting worn out, you kind of remind yourself why you’re doing it,” she says. “You’re doing it for people who have got bigger problems than just being exhausted on a cycle ride.
“There was a kid at one school, who put up his hand during one of the sessions and said ‘what do you do if your friend has told you he’s being abused, but he doesn’t want you to tell anyone?’
“It was a really good opportunity, because we had counsellors there for them to go and speak to the child directly and get sort of an immediate plan in place to help the kid. So that was a real example of things that come up in in these opportunities that you can deal with, on-the-spot with the experts who go with us into the schools.”
Despite the loss of the visits, Peter and Wayne both say this year’s event is one they are particularly looking forward to as they have their sons by their side and look back on 20 years of achievement.
“My previous job was actually with The Fathering Project,” Wayne says. “The Fathering Project is about engaging dads with kids, so this is a perfect example of dads and kids spending quality time together. And the fact that we’ve got about nine kids of original riders participating actually adds a new dimension.
“Having Jack along with me adds a whole new dimension so that I can actually engage with him on the journey, we’ve undertaken the training together and you know we can cement the bond that’s been built over the years and through the training process.”
You can hear the excitement in Peter’s voice as he talks about what this year’s event will bring, but as he looks forward he is mindful that the very wet first ride, all those years ago, really set the course for success.
“I think that if we hadn’t had such a successful event, even through a difficult weather event, maybe we wouldn’t have lasted 20 years. And I think that’s what I think that’s what’s set up the riders in the future, because that first year was difficult.
“It made us realise, hey, whatever you throw at us, we, as a collective group, can still ride together in terrible weather. And even through all that, the riders will still be able to exceed expectations in raising money. And I think that’s galvanised us and set us up to have a bright future for 20 years.
“I bet it’s gonna be a special one this year, though, for all the dads and mums who are riding with their children. I think it’s really going to hit home on the last day when we ride into the finish line at The University of Western Australia with them.”
Lifeline: 13 11 14
Young people seeking support can phone beyondblue on 1300 22 4636 or go to headspace.org.au
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