As a father of three children, one of which was born with Down syndrome, I am committed to providing every opportunity for my children as they grow up in a regional area.
I began to look at what the future might hold for my children if we were to stay in a small town.
Should we pack up the family and move to a larger city to give them more opportunities? Considering my son has Down syndrome, I pondered this question rigorously.
What opportunities were here for him?
On reflection, I felt that living in a tight-knit community such as ours in Cobram-Barooga could provide so much more.
A chance to be part of the community, to be known, to have people in the town know who you are and who would go out of their way to assist you, has a lot more appeal than moving to a much larger city and becoming lost in the crowd.
In 2015, I launched the first 321 Ride for Down Syndrome — a 321km bicycle ride over three days around north-central Victoria in a bid to raise awareness, acceptance and inclusiveness of people living with Down syndrome.
It is this awareness of the abilities that people may have, the acceptance of the general public and the inclusiveness of people with Down syndrome that would ultimately give more opportunities to not only my son, but all people with special needs.
In 2016, I continued the journey in a bid to build on the success of the first ride and to begin to create a unique annual event.
This year, thanks to our major sponsors the Barooga Sports Club, Brooks Hall Lawyers, The Paradise Queen on the Murray at Lake Mulwala, Mogg Osborne, MS Constructions, the Big Strawberry, Cobram Panel Works, Artavilla Emporium and a host of other local businesses, I was able to put together customised apparel for our volunteers assisting with the 321 Ride, including a custom-designed bike jersey for participating riders.
The purpose of the team jerseys was to make people take notice of the group of volunteers as they moved in and out of the towns along the route, hopefully sparking more conversations about what we were doing and, more importantly, why.
Over the past couple of years I have been fortunate enough to raise a little over $14000 during the course of the 321 rides, which has proved to be a significant contribution to not only the likes of Down Syndrome Victoria, but directly to our community in supporting the Cobram Specialist School with educational projects for its junior area, including a resurgence in its Bike Education Program.
I have been blessed with a great family and am fortunate enough to have a great group of friends who have been willing to participate in different legs of the ride over the past three years.
A highlight from 2017 was meeting a gentleman with Down syndrome who was having morning tea with his sister when we stopped for a drink break in Numurkah. Gavin, who is now 67 years of age, is non-verbal but is considered to be well educated. He is also an artist.
I’ve caught up with Gavin since the ride and I have been lucky enough to see some of his paintings, which really are remarkable.
My short-term goal is to grow this ride over the coming years and to make it a public event that will showcase our region and bring together riders from all walks of life.
At the same time, I hope to not only raise social awareness and acceptance of those with Down syndrome and other special needs, but also raise much-needed funds to assist groups such as the Cobram Specialist School that put so much time and effort into our kids and their families, as well as local groups such as PALS Inc, who support those in need of emergency respite accommodation in our regional areas, and of course Down Syndrome Australia.
I hope my persistence will pay off and eventually see the 321 Ride become a national event, conducted in numerous states with proceeds supporting Down Syndrome Australia and contributing to the independence of people living with Down syndrome and special needs.
The final message I would like to share is that I don the lycra and get out in public and have people sneer or laugh at my ‘‘shapely’’ physique.
But at the end of the day, I can also take off the lycra and hang it up for the day, dress in my usual streetwear or business suit and not be noticed, not stand out, not be judged. Most of us can. People with Down syndrome are rarely afforded that same right.
●You can visit the 321 Ride for Down Syndrome Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/321-RIDE-for-Down-syndrome-901746306515427/