IN FOCUS: Riding to start a conversation

The Pukaup Grand Tour is a ride headed by former AFL star and PukaUp CEO Wayne Schwass. This years ride kicked off at Marvell Stadium and travels 10 days and nearly 2000km through some of Victoria’s most challenging terrain. The purpose of the tour is raise awareness and start conversations around mental health, aiming to stamp out suicide.

Alarmingly, 3,128 Australian’s took their life in 2017, the equal highest recorded rate in the past decade. That’s an average of eight Australians every day.

Puka Up is a social enterprise founded by one of Australia’s leading mental health advocates, Wayne Schwass. Having battled silently with his own mental health for much of his sporting career, Wayne is now a dedicated mental health advocate, committed to raising awareness about mental health, emotional wellbeing and suicide prevention. In the Hindi language, Pukka means ‘authentic and genuine’.

“Our vision is to make genuine conversations around mental health a part of everyday life, with the aim to eliminate suicide.”

CPC had athletes Stuart Grimsey and Aaron Mulkearns join the tour  this year, supporting the cause along with their family businesses Grimsey Wealth and Tobin Brothers Funerals.

In only it’s second year, this years tour threw challenges at everyone involved. Days often started before light, ended after dark and included hills, heat, wind, rain and long rough country roads. It brought up self reflection, vulnerabilities, physical and emotional pain, but with riders having the support of each other, they all helped each other complete the 10 gruelling days and over 2000kms.

The ride not only takes a huge physical toll on each of the riders, it is emotionally just as hard for everyone involved.

We sat down with rider and athlete Stuart ‘Stu’ Grimsey to learn more about this incredible experience and what it meant to him.

What drew you to the PukaUp organisation and made you want to participate and support the 2019 PukaUp grand tour ?
Our business Grimsey Wealth is a fully integrated financial services business that specialises in medical and dental professionals. We found that through our business a large number of clients were having mental health problems and after speaking with a friend realised that Puka Up would be the perfect vehicle for our business to give back to our client base for a cause that touches so many directly or indirectly.

You had a procedure on your heart only weeks before the ride began, talk us through that and the added challenge that brought for you. 
4 weeks prior to the ride starting I had a procedure called a catheter ablation for an arrhythmia or irregular heart beat. The procedure lasted no more than 2 hours to correct the arrhythmia and a further 2 weeks of rest was required before easing back in to some light training with the 10 day ride acting as a test to see if the procedure was successful. I experienced no arrhythmia throughout the 10 day Puka Up grand tour and this had a positive impact on my confidence knowing that the arrhythmia had been cured.

You have previously ridden as a professional cyclist, riding and racing in Europe, how would you compare your time over there to the physical and emotional challenge of this charity ride?
When I was competing full time in cycling events in Europe I was at a much higher level of conditioning and was able to recover a lot quicker on a day to day basis however this coupled with the emotional fatigue made the ride extremely challenging. I found it incredibly challenging mentally being on the bike anywhere from 8 to 13 hours a day, that if I compared that to a race in Europe you’re probably looking at covering some of those distances in 4 to 6 hours and focusing on the race dynamics rather than relaxed longer base kilometre type riding.

What did you find was the biggest challenge for you over the 10 days?
Apart from being away from loved ones, the biggest challenge was making sure I stayed on top of my hydration and not over using sugary drinks, gels and energy bars to help ensure I didn’t have stomach issues.

What was the most significant point for you in the journey? Did you have a ‘this is why I am here’ moment?
For me this moment came on the evening of day two of our ride into Benalla, when one of our support staff spoke of their journey and experience with mental health. A couple of days later we rode to Mount Hotham and the story from a couple of nights before stuck in my mind. After speaking to strangers at stops on our way to Mount Hotham, I soon realised that we were generating awareness and I realised how important these conversations were that Puka Up was trying to create. Not one rider had an easy day that day and it was clear how important having support around you is.

What is your biggest take away from your involvement with PukaUp that you can now take into your day to day life?
The need to continue these conversations about suicide prevention and to assist our business in creating safe environments and normalising the conversation around mental health and emotional wellbeing.

What is the main message you want to continue to share?
If someone you know is having trouble with their mental health guide them to talk to someone that they feel comfortable with whether it be a loved one, friend, colleague or your family doctor.

And the big question- would you do it again? 100% I would do it all again!

You can view some more of the incredible photos from the tour here

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