Shared heartbreak sends amateur cyclists on 400km quest for hope

Thursday 5 October Muscular Dystrophy Australia (MDA) saw 15 dedicated cyclists leave from its North Melbourne HQ as they started a marathon bike ride through the Victorian Goldfields region in aid of increasing awareness of Muscular Dystrophy and raising funds.

The ChallengeMD Goldfields 2017 involved travelling more than 400km in four days and a total elevation of 2,400mtr. The course took the riders through stunning mountain landscapes as well as famous towns in the Goldfields region of Victoria, including Maldon and Heathcote.

What sets MDA’s ChallengeMD series apart from other organisations is the ethos we operate under – maximum return to cause by not sleeping in expensive hotels, fancy meals and the like.

What also sets the uniqueness of this challenge is that most cyclists are novice and middle aged. They all share in common the heartbreak of having a relative or friend affected by MD or have MD themselves. During their gruelling journey they found the strength to go on in reminding themselves who they were doing this for.  For some, it drove them to the basics, of not taking for granted that they have, the luxury of movement and the luxury of being able to push their bodies to their utter limits.

There were the grandparents doing it for their grandchildren. The poignancy to get to a pit stop and be greeted by an innocent four year old boy jumping excitedly and cheering his grandmother when all knew what a difficult journey he has ahead of him. His grandmother battling on and with two wheels for four days while her grandson will probably be battling the four wheels of his wheelchair for the rest of his short life.

What transpires at the end of the four days is a common sense of support and camaraderie, when one of the cyclist who is affected by MD was in a lot of pain from Lancefield but kept going, other cyclists offered their help by pushing him in the last four kilometres.

The last night at Heathcote was shared with stories of loved ones who are affected by MD. We were lucky to have a researcher in our midst who shared his feelings. He disclosed that in his challenging field of research it felt good to meet the MD community and be reminded of why he is dedicated his life to research in MD.

MDA Executive Director Boris M Struk spoke of his journey from the first day of his son Ryan’s diagnosis to the establishment of the MDA so that no other family should walk the MD Journey without the support of the MDA.

There was more gained than monetary in this ride. There was the bonding in the quest for hope. Sharing stories about loved ones and the history of MD. The recognition of what MDA has achieved in providing a supportive community, a reliable and trusted guiding lighthouse.  Stories of newly diagnosed and stories of years of struggles were candidly shared. MD is a neglected disease, a bit like cancer’s poor cousin, even though it randomly affects 1 in 625 person. As a consequence, unlike in the USA, it is not widely understood nor does it get much coverage in Australia.  Not much has happened in terms of finding the Holy Grail, a treatment or cure. However, it was pointed out how the quality of life has improved in the last 30 years. This is thanks to MDA who has provided more than 1 million hours of respite through CampMDA, funded research, and provided scholarships to PhD students. MDA has built a community where people can get support from basic to complex information, participate in various programs and provide monetary resource for research.

The itinerary itself went on as follows:

Day 1 on 5 October was from MDA’s Head Office in North Melbourne 84 km to Rowsley where we conduct CampMDA every September. This was a pretty uneventful ride apart from aggressive car drivers and strong head winds slowing the riders. We arrived at Lady Northcote and had an amazing hot dinner and had an early night in the comfort of a bunk-bed and soft mattress. Breakfast at 8am for a 9am start.

Day 2 – Rowsley to Maldon 102 km – leave Lady Northcote, Rowsley at 9am, mild morning and the first 7 km were made for fantastic cycling, flat at first, then followed by mild undulations. But we had a surprise in store for the cyclists as they rounded the last corner to be greeted by a 22% incline which was unrelenting corner after corner for almost 2 km. There was only one option open to all the cyclists, they ended up out of the saddle and pushing their trusty steeds up the hill. This was almost as hard as cycling!

After 30km, riders entered the Royal Hotel in Daylesford for lunch.

We arrived at Maldon Football Club and spent the next hour preparing our sleeping arrangements – comprising inflatable mattresses and bed rolls to sleep upon.  Maldon’s Kangaroo Hotel was only a short hop from the football ground and that’s where we relaxed in the beer garden before dinner.

Day 3 – Maldon to Heathcote 108 km

A radio interview with PULSE FM was prearranged and Boris had the opportunity to talk about MD and ChallengeMD for 10 minutes while keeping the mooing cows at bay. This was a wonderful opportunity to spread the MD word and Make a Difference.

We arrived at the Redesdale Hotel on time to partake of the pre-arranged lunch. Members of the MACE SMC with their black and shiny Harleys compared their motorcycles with our cycles and showed great interest in what MDA was all about. One Member opened his wallet and donated the only note in there leaving it empty – a $50 note. How nice was that!

The final stage for the day saw cyclists race down a 10% decline only to be greeted by a long 10% uphill run also of about 2km in length.

We were the first group to use the new Heathcote Stadium only opened the week before. This was a fabulous facility with new carpeted floors with only one small deficiency. The plumbers forgot to connect the hot water and the only option available to us was a cold (very cold) shower!

Pizza and pasta was on the menu and some gentle rhythmic snoring capped off the night’s sleep.

Day 4 – Heathcote to Greenvale 101 km

Boris and Bill were busy in the kitchen cooking up a storm for breakfast and loading up the cyclists with plenty of kilojoules to see them depart for Greenvale.

First stop was the Tooborac General Store and this will be the breakfast stop for ChallengeMD Goldfields 2018! They make the best burgers in town, perhaps even the Universe!

The Tooborac-Lancefield Road provides some of the most unique and picturesque views with amazing rock formations with boulders, some as big as houses peppering the lush green pastures and hills.

The first stage had some serious up and down hills but the reward was a long 12% downhill run that saw several cyclists hit 70kph making for a beautiful reward on the last day.

A quick stop at the Lancefield Bakery had cyclists getting pies, pasties and sausage rolls for the final stretch.

We rolled into Greenvale to be greeted by cyclists’ family and friends cheering as we approached the end of an amazing journey. A magnificent BBQ at the Struk home had riders relaxing, eating and drinking while reminiscing about this ChallengeMD Goldfields 2017.

Muscular Dystrophy Australia is resolute about saving on any unnecessary cost. This meant that cyclists and support crew had very basic amenities including sleeping on the floor of the local football club in Maldon and the stadium in Heathcote!

99% of the cost of running this event was covered entirely by the ChallengeMD riders and their registration fees of $250. Every single dollar they raised through the donations of their supporters is going exactly where MDA has promised: to programs, services and research.

MDA acknowledges the wonderful support of Audi Australia and Kennards Hire.

Collectively, cyclists, support crew, donors, and sponsors have Made a Difference!

Sponsorship donations are still open until 31 October https://www.mycause.com.au/events/challengemd

ChallengeMD! Goldfields 2018 will run from Thur 27 Sep to Sun 30 Sep. keep an eye on our website: www.mda.org.au