Life Cyclists – Sydney to Armidale

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In 2010, Armidale’s Damian and Rebecca Wood organised a mountain bike ride from Sydney to Armidale, under the banner of ‘ Lifecyclists’, to raise money for the Sydney Children’s Hospital and as a memorial to their late daughter, Tessa.


Sessa spent nine months in the hospital receiving treatment for leukaemia in 2009, but died after developing a rare complication. She was just 19 months old. Lifecyclists are now gearing up for their second ride, leaving Sydney on September 29 and arriving in Armidale on October 5.

The first Lifecyclists ride was in 2010. Was it successful?

The 2010 Lifecyclists ride was an extraordinary experience for everyone involved. There was so much emotion, as the grief of losing Tessa was still quite raw. The response from family, friends and the community was incredible, surpassing all our expectations as far as support and fundraising goes. We raised over $50,000!

On a personal note, it was a great sense of achievement to do something in honour of Tessa and to keep her memory alive.

What is the plan for the ride this year?

The plan for this year is to fully utilise the mountain bikes and get off the beaten track. Although we will be following the same basic route, we will be avoiding all major roads, taking dirt roads, trails and at one point, carrying the bikes 800 m across a beach! It is so much more enjoyable to get away from the traffic, and it adds an element of adventure to the ride.

The basic route will be to travel north of Sydney, with stops at Toukley, Nelson Bay and Forster, through Taree, where two of the riders reside, then head up the mountain from Wingham to Nowendoc, then to Walcha via Brackendale, and through to Uralla and Armidale using back roads through Gostwyck and Invergowrie. All up, we should travel about 700 km in seven days.

Rebecca, you are riding this year – what prompted you to get on the bike?

To be honest, I didn’t really consider myself a starter originally. I have been riding my bike regularly since 2009 as a form of stress relief, and Dame suggested I have a go at riding this time round. With his help, I have upped my training to ensure I am fit enough to keep up with the boys.

As I am a bit of a reluctant trainer, it hasn’t been easy! Last time I was part of the support crew, and that was a lot of fun. I am really looking forward to travelling the route again, on my bike.

There are also a number of other new cyclists joining you for this year’s ride. Tell us about them and how they got involved?

Jim Lea and Ziggy Hiscox are two locals that will be joining us for the ride. Jim has been a family friend for many years, and we really enjoyed his company on the Tour de Rocks earlier this year, and we knew he would be a great addition to the team.

Ziggy has only taken up cycling in the last 12 months but has embraced it with great enthusiasm. One of his greatest assets is his outgoing personality, which will be invaluable out on the road.

We knew we had the right guys when both of them jumped at the chance to be part of Lifecyclists 2012, and we know that their family and friends will get right behind them in support.

Bec’s cousin, Paul Mackie, and his friend, Walter, who are both from Taree, will also be coming along, as well as original Lifecyclists Rolfe and Rob Kolbe from Sydney.

What about your support crew? Who are they, and what goes on behind the scenes?

We are so lucky to have such capable support staff in John Galletly and my brother, Greg Wood. Neither of them require any introduction, as they are very well known local identities. They will set up camp for us every evening, as well as looking after all the catering for the ride, which is no mean feat, but these guys make it look easy. They also provide two strong personalities into the mix, which adds to the atmosphere of the ride.

They are ably backed up by Greg’s son, Matthew, and our two children, James and Roie. My brother, Anthony, will also be joining us as official tour photographer.

How has the support been so far for Lifecyclists 2012?

We’ve had wonderful support from the Armidale business community. We’ve received cash donations to help us stage the ride, as well as a wide variety of goods to be auctioned and raffled. Notable mentions must go to New England Mutual, The Professionals, Ducat’s Earthmoving and Bunnings.

The full list of sponsors is displayed both on our website and Facebook page. We are also fortunate to be well supported by a number of Quota clubs from various parts of Northern NSW – the catalyst for which was Damian being guest speaker at the District 24 Conference, which was hosted by the Walcha club in June. Again, their donations are noted on our website and Facebook page.

How is fundraising progressing? How do people make a contribution?

We have really diversified the way we raise funds for this year’s ride. The easiest way for people to contribute is through our website: by clicking on the ‘donate now’ tab. We also have an account at Community Mutual.

We have been doing quite a lot of community based fundraising, such as the Friday night raffles at the Grand Hotel, a BBQ at Bunnings and a stall at the monthly markets.

Fundraising is going well and the community has been very generous so far, but we are still hoping for more people to support a very worthy cause. All money donated goes to the Sydney Children’s Hospital Family Support Fund, which assists country families with expenses when they are at the hospital receiving lifesaving treatment for their children.

Is there any way we can follow the ride’s progress?

Rolfe will publish a daily blog on our website, which will include photos and anecdotes from each day’s journey. So you can log on to the site now for an overview of this year’s ride and associated events. There will also be regular Facebook updates throughout the ride.

So what is planned for the Lifecyclists arrival in Armidale?

We will be arriving at the Armidale Bowling Club at about 4.30pm on Friday, October 5, where hopefully we will have a gathering of friends and family there to greet us, with the welcome function getting underway at 6pm.

The feature of the evening will be a charity auction that is being conducted by Michael Clark. We’ve had some great items donated for the auction, like a Sydney Swans guernsey signed by Brett Kirk, Adam Goodes and the rest of the 2010 team, a pink charity St George guernsey with certificate of authenticity, a Brisbane Broncos strip and the BBQ used by this year’s Masterchef winner, Andy Allen, at the recent Bunnings Gala Day, and much more.

Our son, James, will be having his head shaved in memory of his sister, with local hairdresser Helen Simpson doing the honours. Entertainment will be provided by local bands Tex Message, and duo Dan and Josh. Bar snacks and meals can be ordered from the Club Bistro. Entry is by donation, and kids are very welcome. We are expecting a good crowd.

What are the future plans for Lifecyclists?

We hope to stage the ride every two years. It is a wonderful way for us to keep Tessa’s memory alive. While we would have our daughter back in a heartbeat, we know that is not possible. So we take the gift that she has given us, which is to help other families who find themselves in a situation such as ours.

Lifecyclists will continue to evolve, and perhaps in future years it will be the whole family on their bikes in memory of our daughter and sister.

Thanks Damian and Rebecca.

This story was published in issue 65 of the New England Focus

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