Sisters join forces for the 2023 Lions Ride for Sight
Siblings Leesa Willmott, Kerry Fitzgerald and Sharon Oates are riding for their parents in the 2023 Lions Ride for Sight.
Sisters Leesa Willmott and Kerry Fitzgerald aren’t professional cyclers, but after hearing about the Ride for Sight from their parents Colin and Pam Willmott they were inspired to sign up.
Their mission to support eye research is personal – both Colin and Pam, members of the Wonthaggi Lions Club, and have age-related macular degeneration (AMD).
“Mum gets needles in the eyes every six weeks, and Dad’s is at an advanced stage and he is legally blind,” says Kerry.
Leesa has even successfully “nagged” her other sister Sharon into riding with them, making them a trio.
Sharon says she “not a biker at all” and “needs lots of practice”.
However, Leesa is confident all three will be in shape for the event.
“Sharon has an e-bike to practice though – we’re doing the hard yards.”
While this is the first Ride for Sight for all three sisters, Leesa and Kerry are strong cyclers.
Kerry’s interest for cycling was sparked after watching her children Thomas, Katherine and Bernadette race with the Leongatha Cycling Club.
“I used to worry the club was looking after my kids, so I decided to join in,” she says.
Leesa says she was “conned” into cycling by Kerry about four years ago – starting with the 55-kilometre Bass Coast Challenge.
“She told me I had a month to train, and I’d never ridden a road bike!” Leesa says.
Since then, the pair have completed the event twice.
“With minimal training, we rode the last one in around two hours and 20 minutes, so I’m hoping we’ll be okay for the Ride for Sight,” she says.
Leesa says one thought is spurring them all on: “We’re doing it for Mum and Dad.”
Living with AMD
Colin, who has late-stage dry AMD, is proud of his daughters.
“I’m absolutely stoked they have decided to do it, and I’ll endeavour to raise a few dollars around Wonthaggi and Leongatha,” he says.
It was around 20 years ago when Colin noticed something wrong with his vision and got tested.
“I was looking at the eye chart and kept moving my head sideways and the doctor said: ‘Look directly at it – what can you see’, and I said: ‘nothing’.”
A few years later, he was officially diagnosed with dry late-stage AMD.
Pam’s wet AMD diagnosis came suddenly in 2019 after she experienced a dusty, gritty feeling in her eye during a trip around the Northern Territory.
Back in Melbourne, Pam quickly commenced regular injections and considers herself lucky.
“My AMD is stable because it was treated from the beginning,” says Pam.
While injections into the eye can help stabilise wet AMD, there is currently no approved treatment for the late-stage, dry AMD.
Pam and Colin are no strangers to raising money for eye research, hosting an annual open garden event showcasing Colin’s garden.
“We helped raise a bit over $10,000 for macular research,” says Colin.
Pam says all four of her daughters have the potential to develop macular degeneration: “Our oldest daughter Sharon is currently being tested.”
This year’s event
From the time it started in 1994, the Lions District 201V3 has raised more than $1 million to support CERA’s research in the annual Ride for Sight – a multi-day endurance cycling event in Gippsland.
This year’s Ride for Sight starts in Wonthaggi on 14 April, with participants cycling via Nyora to Korumburra with an overnight stop.
On Saturday, there will be a round trip via Drouin South, returning to stop overnight in Korumburra, before finishing off with a 60km loop on Sunday 16 April.
For those who can’t make the event in person, participants can also sign up for the 4-week Ride for Sight Challenge and aim to ride either 400 km, or a distance of their choice, between 20 March and 16 April.
Last year’s Ride for Sight raised $55,000 to support CERA’s work and this year the organisers have set a goal of $60,000.