Impressive. In February, a group of 35 riders undertook a nine day challenge cycling from Cape Reinga to Cape Palliser - 1380km, and a climb of 14,000m. Described casually in a sentence, those words just fall onto the page. By contrast, it is hard to imagine the physical and mental impact of such a level of strenuous concentration and sheer hard graft. For example, one day of the ride alone was the road from Piopio to New Plymouth – a route that so many of us have driven countless times. I drive it now with a fresh admiration for the physical capacity that people have. To cycle up Mount Messenger? How do you do that?! I guess by dint of the passion that drives you – coupled with an intense amount of training and preparation.
This amazing group of people, “Joe's Garage Charity Cycle Riders” are committed to raising awareness around depression and suicide. “Amazing” because they would push that concern to the extent of cycling the entire length of the North Island to make people stop and listen... and donate. On Friday evening, I was privileged to be part of a presentation of funds from their mission. The riders looked considerably less disheveled (but no less the “real” people that they are), than the moment I watched open-mouted as they rode the last gasp of the journey into Cape Palliser. I have to admit to being pretty nervous to meet such people. Their grit and resilience and their mana sets them apart – but it turns out it doesn't make them in the least superior. They are quite happy to pass the time of day, and to talk down their achievement. I am there because the charity that I am connected with - “Taranaki Retreat Trust” is to be recipient of a huge wodge of their hard-earned sponsorship funds. I am invited to say a few words and find myself slightly at a loss, faced with such accomplishment. And all the more so because this group of indescribably committed people didn't decide to start their own “good cause” - instead, they decided to assist the work of causes already active in our community. Giving it all away. The rest of the sponsorship was distributed similarly – huge cheques presented to the Life Education Trust – as they pointed out, “ It all begins with our youth, by giving them the right education to assist them in making the right life choices.” - and, the Rural Support Trust – providing the much-needed resources right where the challenges of getting by can be hardest of all in Taranaki.
Looking around the room, I realise that the riders – enjoying a beer and good conversation with those around them – are a true reflection of what I love so much about Taranaki people. Their faith in the crucial responsibility and ability of our community to heal and protect the marginalised is reflected not in a lot of hot air, but in intense costly action and the shedding of I-don't-know-how-many litres of sweat per person. Their contribution of funds to Taranaki Retreat will be put towards the build of the “Guest Lodge” where people in need of a bit of time-out (people just like you, and me, and them....) can come and stay free of charge for a couple of weeks and connect up with the people and services who can help long-term in finding equilibrium. It doesn't even matter to them that the riders won't meet the beneficiaries; they did it because they probably each know somebody who could well have benefited from support, when crisis hit, and therefore put their own lives on the line with a hugely risky venture.
A family who recently stayed with us said, “What makes the difference is that somebody said, “Yes” when we asked for help. Pretty humbling – but inspiring too. There's no way I could cycle the entire North Island in less than a fortnight.... but that wasn't my calling (thank God!). Whatever your calling might be to make a difference, believe me – it is so worth every single jot. As the cycle team's Facebook page says, “Depression - it's an illness not a weakness.” Amen to that.
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