Walking the coast for those they love

A t-shirt draped across a backpack is billowing in the breeze, its poignant image of a young woman who took her own life carried along by a veritable army of walkers on the Fleurieu Peninsula.

Sep 06, 2022, updated Sep 06, 2022
Coastrek walkers cross to Granite Island last Friday. Photo: Cass Bentvelzen

Coastrek walkers cross to Granite Island last Friday. Photo: Cass Bentvelzen

Some 1300, mainly women, are by Noelene Nolan’s side as she walks along 30km of coastline with the t-shirt created in memory of her daughter Jess who died at just 27 years.

“It was very unexpected, there was no previous history of depression or mental health issues, or anxiety, it was just one day she was there and the next day she was gone,” Noelene says.

Others are walking for their own family members who are struggling with mental health or simply to improve their own, tackling either 30km or 60km to together raise more than $850,000 last Friday for the Beyond Blue charity.

Among the trekkers is Georgie Whelan, who shared her struggle with trying to start a family for five years, the hope, the devastation of miscarriages and ectopic pregnancies, and the deep affect this has on her state of mind.

“It takes its toll; mentally, physically, emotionally, financially. It’s all consuming,” Georgie says.

She found great comfort training with a team of four to tackle the 30km option of Coastrek, along with sister Hayley who has her own story around IVF and another team member who was carrying her own grief around miscarriage.

Di Westaway (front) with Georgie Whelan’s team.

Di Westaway knows all about the healing power of walking in nature. She started the business Wild Women on Top in Sydney, taking women to adventurous destinations like Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania or Machu Picchu in Peru.

Then, thirteen years ago, she started Coastrek. She recognised most women could not afford an exotic hiking trip and mothers in particular needed to make their own time to exercise, the raising of funds for others is meaningful and also helps alleviate the guilt of taking time out from family.

Numbers exploded, and the trek is now held in states around Australia, starting in South Australia during 2018. It has so far raised some $16 million nationally for Beyond Blue after the partnership was forged in 2019.

“We have 320 teams with about 1300 people walking in SA this year,” Westaway says before the event, each team committing to raise $2000, and many raising far more.

Most on the South Australian walk have their own story about mental health.

Peta O’Brien was walking this year. Originally from Adelaide, she travelled to the event from interstate after losing her sister in a tragic accident in 2020, saying training and participating in Coastrek was a great focus to help her through the grief of losing a beloved family member.

At times, she also has called Beyond Blue for support.

“Beyond Blue helps so many people that have been in my shoes or have suffered some form of loss that leads to anxiety, grief, depression and suicidal thoughts,” she says.

In a previous walk, Sydney-based Susie Ashton-Davies and her team flew to Adelaide and raised $18,200 on Coastrek, walking for her nephew Wills, who she lost to suicide in 1994 on the Fleurieu coastline.

It is a fundraising phenomenon that is growing across the state.

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The Jodi Lee Foundation Trek is an annual fundraising event started by Nick Lee. Nick’s  40-year-old wife Jodi died from bowel cancer and when he learned it could have been prevented if the cancer was detected early, the fundraising began.

The Bloody Long Walk is a 35km event raising money for the lesser known mitochondrial disease. It starts in Carrick Hill in the city and leads to Glenelg.

One woman tells of walking alongside a mother during the last event, a mother pushing an empty wheelchair with a teddy bear on its seat the entire way in memory of the child she has lost to the genetic disorder.

Westaway knows why the power of exercise draws people to train, walk, run, and raise funds for their community.

“Many joining our Coastrek talk about the joy they get from participating. They talk about how mood lifting walking in nature is for them, there’s a huge body of research that underpins that feeling, anything from anxiety and depression to someone feeling like they are struggling or just having a bad day,” she says.

“We hear so many stories from those walking for loved ones, they are not just raising money to help somebody else, they are improving their mental health to help someone.”

Fundraising closes Sunday, September 11.


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