Forty-five pushbike riders, five volunteers and a support vehicle departed from the Westpac Life Saver Rescue Helicopter (WLSRH) base in Lismore on Saturday morning for the 15th-anniversary Hell on Wheels cycle tour. The gruelling route will traverse 500km over eight days through towns and forests in the far northern area of the WLSRH region.
Event coordinator Tony Keogh came up with the idea 15 years ago and has directed the event each year since. To date Hell on Wheels has raised more than $750,000 for the service and this year they hope to raise a further $45,000. The event attracts corporate sponsorship, and riders pay for all the expenses to run the ride, so money donated goes straight to the cause. Riders also donate $200 each and participate in fundraising.
Tony told Echonetdaily, ‘this event is about raising money and awareness. The WLSRH is a valuable and well-used service. Most people know of someone who has been airlifted so it’s a very personal thing for some people now.’
Age shall not weary 68-year-old rider Geoff Tomkins. Geoff rode in the 2001 event and this year will be his 10th ride. Geoff started riding in 1990 as a result of diagnosed high blood pressure and was able to go off medication for about ten years as a result of the exercise. He now rides three times a week around 20 to 40 kilometres each time.
‘For a while there I had a streak of brilliance and decided that it wasn’t something for old people to do, but you forget about those things as Alzheimer’s sets in!’ he told Echonetdaily.
‘Each year I think how did I get dragged into this again? I’ll fall over dead.’
Chief pilot Andrew Baker presented a plaque to Yellow Pages representatives as a symbol of acknowledgement for their support of the event. Andrew came to WLSRH as a line pilot in 1997, left for a working holiday and returned to the service three months ago.
Andrew told Echonetdaily, ‘My job is rewarding; that is why we are here. If it was about the money you would do something else. To be able to fly for a living and perform such a useful community function is the absolute driver for all our guys here.
‘You need to be committed to the cause because sometimes it is uncomfortable and can be unpleasant. We deal with nice people in terrible situations. That can get you down if you are not committed to the work.
‘These fundraising events are our bread and butter. We get some government support but the vast majority comes from the community.’