Terrigal Wamberal Sharks official Dean Gillard has lined up around 30 junior clubs and six NRL clubs to visit on his fund-raising walk from the NSW Central Coast to Mount Kosciuszko in early 2022.
And why would Gillard choose to walk 600km instead of simply taking a six-and-a-half-hour journey by car to the Snowy Mountains?
“My goal is to inspire young people to strive for the highest peaks in life,” Gillard told nswrl.com.
“So, the concept of walking from sea level to Australia’s highest mountain struck a real chord within me.”
Gillard is taking on the mammoth trek in February-March next year, which will see him average up to 35km a day and take him three weeks to complete, to raise money for the NRL’s mental health project, ‘Headspace’. He plans on leaving Terrigal Surf Club on Feb 19 and arriving March 12.
He is vice-president of the Terrigal Wamberal JRLC and a life member of the Cronulla-Caringbah Sharks. So, with his strong Rugby League connections he intends to put the word out along the route so he can touch as many junior players, teenagers and youths as possible.
“I work with lots of young people and Headspace is targeted towards those aged 12 to 25 – that’s the age bracket we want to offer support to,” Gillard said.
“I have two teenage boys of my own who, thankfully, have never had any mental health issues but I hope they never have to deal with it. This way I can help them and others if there are any problems ahead in life.”
He has reached out to six NRL clubs – Manly Warringah Sea Eagles, Sydney Roosters, Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs, Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks, St George Illawarra Dragons and Canberra Raiders – as they are along the ‘back streets’ route that Gillard has drawn up.
“I’m also contacting as many junior clubs as I can on my route and that’s presented a few hurdles seeing as it’s the off-season, but everyone so far seems very keen for me to come to their club and see the kids,” he said.
“Since I’ll be passing by sometimes when the kids are in school, I’ll make sure I take a photo of me at their training field or in front of their club house so they can put it on their social media channels and raise awareness that way. Other times I’ll come into their classrooms to speak to them.”
The Sharks and Bulldogs have replied to Gillard’s approaches and plan on having their NRL squad players walk a lap of their home ovals with him.
It’s not Gillard’s first charity drive, so he knows he has the mental strength to keep going even when the legs, hips and feet are fatiguing. He’s also keen for anyone to walk part of the way with him at any stage.
“I’m employed by NSW Fire and Rescue and I’m a personal trainer as well so I like to think I’ve got the skills to hang in there,” he said.
“Motivation won’t be a problem because if I can help just one person with their mental struggles, then I’ve achieved my goal.”
The money raised will go towards funding Headstart programs and initiatives at schools and clubs.
Gillard reckons he will go through two pairs of shoes and an umpteen number of protein bars and bunches of bananas.
“I’ll have a good breakfast of eggs and other protein but will snack most of the day to keep the fuel going into me.”
Gillard is self-funding the trip, armed with nothing but a backpack and staying in motels, cabins or bed and breakfast rooms along the way.
“I’m not going along highways, but in the back roads so I can get right up close to the towns, their people and the junior clubs.”
The last third of the journey, his partner Kristen and sons Mitch and Jake will be his support crew.
But he’s looking for hotels and RSL clubs and other community groups to get behind him and offer sponsorship or benefit nights to raise money for Headstart. And as a Rugby League volunteer he’s hoping any NRL, NSWRL, or other footballers can join him for a short walk en route.
For those wanting to help, or contact Gillard for more details, his email is: Deanulla@hotmail.com