27 March 2023

Hilltops hosts cycling event for farmers as rugby's coach of the moment rides into town

| Edwina Mason
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Cyclists on a road

Last year the Active Farmers’ Ride for Resilience was held in Tasmania. This year the annual fundraiser is headed to the Hilltops region of Southern NSW. Photot: Active Farmers.

Residents of the Hilltops region will have the opportunity to see a major fundraising event glide by their front doors, or farm gates, in April when a bunch of cyclists take to the highways, hills and byways in a bid to raise money in support of farmers’ wellbeing.

The Saturday 22 April 137-kilometre journey from Young to Boorowa, Harden and returning to Young – called the Cherry Ride for Resilience – is one of several annual fundraisers organised by Active Farmers to help drive a message of resilience and community-belonging west of the Great Divide.

Last year Tasmania was the backdrop for the ride but thanks to the new CEO of Active Farmers, Justin “Sambo” Sampson, it’s headed to the cherry capital of Australia – Young – where the grassroots organisation is now based.

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In an even bigger coup d’état, Sambo has persuaded the man of the moment in international rugby, enigmatic Wallabies coach Eddie Jones, to act as guest speaker the night prior to the Ride for Resilience.

There’s more.

Rugby League great Wayne Pearce and Olympic aerial skier Jacqui Cooper are also bound for Young to help deploy a message of good health and tenacity to the town’s fine citizens.

Eddie Jones

Newly-appointed Wallabies coach Eddie Jones will headline one event during the weekend trifecta of activity organised by Active Farmers in Young in April. Photo: Rugby Australia.

The weekend trifecta of activity and chat has the town and the district abuzz.

Which is just what Justin wants. He wants Active Farmers to be the heart and mind of rural Australia.

Active Farmers, with its roots in the NSW Riverina region, is a not-for-profit grassroots organisation founded in the Riverina town of Mangoplah by Ginny Stephens in 2015.

Formed to counter alarming mental health statistics in the regions, the program has been designed to bring entire communities together through regular group fitness classes that mimic the ‘team sport effect’.

“We all know there’s a high prevalence of mental illness in the bush and our farmers are approximately twice as likely to take their lives by suicide. This is incredibly frightening and needs to change,” Ginny explained.

“We aim to provide farmers with motivational, challenging and fun training sessions that suit all levels of fitness and experience to help promote great physical health and mental wellbeing and create a sense of community and belonging.”

It’s now in more than 60 small farming communities primarily across southern NSW Active Farmers with trainers out on the ground weekly.

This collectively translates to 200 classes per month with over 1500 participations.

The goal of Active Farmers is to expand its service to over 100 small farming communities nationally.

That’s helped by a variety of community-based events such as Active Farmers Games (think Tough Mudder for farmers), the Ride for Resilience (fundraising bike rides) and Run for Resilience (fun run and walk).

These events, says Ginny, provide challenging and fun opportunities for the broader community to look forward to and enjoy.

The Ride for Resilience has been one of their most successful annual fundraising activities.

“Here at Active Farmers we rely on the generosity of our supporters to be able to help those in need,” Justin said.

Those supporters include Delta Agriculture, whose head office is located in Young, and Westpac Banking Corporation.

“It costs $7000 per community annually to cover trainers, equipment, venue hire, workshops and education,” he said.

“Every little bit of fundraising counts, so, we are aiming to have each rider raise in excess of $250.”

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Justin said the event aimed not only to raise funds but help raise awareness of the positive impact of physical activity on mental health.

That’s where Eddie Jones, Wayne Pearce and Jackie Cooper come into play.

“Each one of these sporting heavyweights have had careers that have depended on peak physical performance and the mental prowess to compete at international levels,” Justin said, “but they’ve also had to overcome adversity and are well placed to speak anecdotally about that.

“We’re pretty excited to be able to offer that over two nights and through the prism of a fun event that takes in the best the Hilltops has to offer,” he added.

Active Farmers and leading agricultural and horticultural research company, Kalyx, are hosting an evening of drinks and canapes featuring Eddie Jones at Grove Estate Winery, in Young, on Friday 21 April. The event will commence at 6 pm and is open to all riders, sponsors, rugby fans and anyone else keen to support Active Farmers.

On Saturday the one-day charity ride will reach Boorowa for morning tea, then proceed to Harden for lunch, and finish back in Young.

In the evening The Young Services Club will host the official Cherry Ride dinner on Saturday night featuring Wayne Pearce and Jackie Cooper.

To register for these and help Active Farmers make a difference in rural Australia go here.

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