The HMAS Cairns Crusaders cycling team has put their fitness to the test attending the annual Cairns to Cooktown Cardiac Challenge, a fundraising event that aims to increase awareness about cardiac disease in Far North Queensland as well as financially support the cardiac ward in Cairns Base Hospital.
The fundraising event was first launched in 2007 by the Far North Queensland Hospital Foundation and has raised more than $2 million in that time.
On 16 September, 200 willing participants began a 333 kilometre journey to Cooktown. Beginning with the gruelling Kuranda Range, three long days in the saddle saw every rider push themselves along Mulligan Highway, stopping at Mt Carbine and Lakeland overnight.
Commander Carl Capper, Commanding Officer Cairns, is a repeat participant.
“The ride is a valuable Navy community engagement opportunity,” he said.
“It’s also a terrific way to invite contactors and public service personnel on base to be a part of the team.”
Commander Capper said he thoroughly enjoyed his time but was glad to end the ride on the third day.
“Black Mountain is always an amazing landmark to ride past and there is so many other wonderful places to admire and people to meet, but the best part is definitely finally crossing the finish line.”
For some members of the team it was their first long distance event.
Petty Officer Maritime Logistics - Personnel Operations Michael Beacham volunteered, riding in ‘pack five’ with a number of other Navy and civilian cycling enthusiasts, he described the pack formation as ‘speed dating’.
“I finished with a sore seat, but I’ll definitely volunteer again next year and try to push my limits a little further in a more advanced pack,” he said.
The rehabilitation coordinator for Cairns, Rhegan Hartwig, was another returning member of the Crusaders.
“The event is a great way to meet like-minded people and is very community minded,” she said.
Not all members of the Crusaders were riders, however. There was a willing and encouraging support crew who volunteered their time to help out the event by manning water stations, cooking dinner, setting up camp, and providing escorts for the packs of riders. Without the fantastic efforts from those in the support staff the event would not run cohesively or safely for the riders.
A member of the private support crew Cairns Crusaders was Able Seaman Maritime Logistics - Supply Chain Shady Abdelgawad, assisted Able Seaman Maritime Logistics - Chef Tessa Perri with meal preparation.
“I enjoyed cooking on the trip. I was able to make new friends amongst the camp and get to know my colleagues in an environment outside of work which made it easier,” he said.
Another member of the support crew who was involved in the event in a unique but extremely rewarding way was Able Seaman Boatswains Mate Nick Dent, who was detailed as the rear escort for the ‘Deadly Treadlies’, a young indigenous team riding as the last pack. Travelling at only an average speed of 20 kilometres per hour, made for eight hour days in the car.
He described himself as in ‘the rear with the gear’ and extremely proud of the team.
“They came together to overcome massive physical feats, they came together to work as a team and I was able to pass the time by getting my char on to spin a few for the lads,” Able Seaman Dent said.
He was also able to employ his Navy skills to maintaining radio channels with his escort team and other involved supporting services such as the Queensland Police and the SES.
“Hopefully I was able to inspire a younger generation who I would have not been involved with in another setting to join our Navy Indigenous Defence Program in the future,” he said.