“I’m fortunate, others have it so much worse”, said Anya last night when she told our throng about the life-changing, spirit-lifting support provided to her and her family by Very Special Kids over the last two decades. This was just after Anya, with her daughter Michele standing beside her, told us about the loss of her daughter, Shae, to cystic fibrosis aged just 17. Shae had been diagnosed with that terrible genetic disorder at 6 weeks old, and throughout Shae’s life, Very Special Kids had been an indefatigable, loving, even “magical” presence in the lives of Shae, Anya, Michele (who also has Cystic Fybrosis) and their family.
Very Special Kids has been one of Chain Reaction’s principal Victorian charity partners for years now. Kristi Ingrilli, our extraordinary Off-Bike Director, and Very Special Kids’ lead fundraising officer, introduced Anya and Michele. Kristi talked about Very Special Kids' Malvern hospice, to the redevelopment of which Chain Reaction has made substantial contributions, and also Very Special Kids’ seven regional centres, its remarkable staff and services, and the fact it receives minimal government funding.
But it was Anya’s story that brought hush and a few tears to the room. She didn’t dwell on the tragedy of Shae’s loss. Instead, she told us how “the immeasurably wonderful people” at Very Special Kids had made life bearable for Shae and her family in the worst of times. Whether it was a visit to “the light room” for Michele, aged 2, something Michele still remembers as “the best thing I’ve ever seen”, or the chance for Anya to have a chat, a cry, a coffee or a haircut to relieve the relentless pressures of life, the people at Very Speecial Kids were “the best thing in our lives”. Family weekends at Lord Somers camp, provided by Very Special Kids, were oases; “some of the best weekends we ever had”. Anya and her kids would arrive and the Very Special Kids staff would whisk the kids away, just to give their mum a break. “Everything would be done for you.” Anya wanted to assure us: “your money will be used in the best way possible”. Her eloquent presentation left us in no doubt of that.
The presentations from our charity partners during Chain Reaction rides, and from the children and families who directly benefit from the services those charities provide, put the ride in context. The riding is a wonderful experience but ultimately it’s the servant to Chain Reaction’s purpose: raise as much money as possible for some of the most important charitable operations in Victoria. What a privilege it is to be able to participate in that. This year’s Victorian ride has raised just shy of $1,070,000. Thank you to the many individual and corporate donors who made that remarkable result possible (and, as John Ward, Chain Reaction CEO, reminded us at the Hawthorn velodrome finish today, the donation books remain open until 30 June).
This year’s ride has been day after day of hard yakka, enormous riding fun and landscapes of extraordinary beauty. Today was no exception. After a coach transfer from Mansfield, we set off from Marysville, in the ranges north-east of Melbourne, headed for the city. After a climb and plunge out of the town, and a half-hour warm up along rolling roads through the morning chill, we arrived in Narbethong at the foot of the Black Spur, a mythical road that rises and falls through the hills and gullies to Healesville. It is an untarnished cathedral of incredible natural majesty. Mountain ash rise perfectly straight, 60, 70, 80 metres into the sky. There are thousands of these giants, standing in a lush carpet of tree ferns, themselves many metres high and wide. “Where’s Diplodocus?” said one of our crew. If you haven’t been there, go there. My words cannot do justice to what you must experience for yourselves.
After a drinks stop at Healesville Oval, full of chirpy kids and raucous galahs, we took the road to Yarra Glen, past Yarra Valley vineyards over which flocks of sparrows wheeled, chaperoned by the occasional Australian raven. Once through Yarra Glen we climbed the brutally steep, but mercifully short, Butterman’s Track, topping out at well over 20% gradient. After six hard days in the saddle that really hurt. The compensation was the ride along the back roads all the way to St Andrews, via Yow Yow Rising and its hidden vineyards, skirting a red-bellied black snake sunbaking on the knobbly bitumen on the way.
By this time we could almost smell Melbourne. There was an outbreak of chatter as we crested the hill at Greensborough and saw the skyline. In the last few hours of a Chain Reaction ride the adrenaline kicks in, dulling the pain in the riders’ legs, as all of us – crew and riders – look forward to seeing our family and friends at the finish line.
Our caravan arrived to smiles, balloons and more than a few tears. It’s been a wonderful week.
I’ve ridden nine Chain Reaction rides. Every time I give thanks for our crew. The lycra people would be nothing without the tireless, energetic and inventive support provided by our crew: our amazing massage therapists, our ride directors, our paramedics, our bike techs, our drivers – our protectors.
Last of all, thanks to you, our families and partners, who have supported us through months of training and the absence of this week, allowing us the time and space to participate in something wonderful. You’re the bedrock. Thank you.