‘Team Sisters’ success
Three siblings from South Gippsland have achieved their goal of completing the Lions Ride for Sight, while raising over $30,000 for vision research.
The thought of doing a multi-day, 240-kilometre endurance bike ride is unimaginable to many people.
But for sisters Leesa Willmott, Kerry Fitzgerald and Sharon Oates, signing up for the 2023 Lions Ride for Sight was an opportunity to challenge themselves physically and raise funds for a cause close to their heart – saving sight.
Their parents, Pam and Colin Willmott, have advanced age-related macular degeneration (AMD) – an eye disease that causes progressive vision loss.
There is no approved treatment for the ‘dry’ form of AMD that Colin has, which has led to him becoming legally blind. Pam has ‘wet’ AMD and must get regular eye injections to stabilise her vision.
Their four daughters are also showing the early signs of AMD.
“It’s great if we can raise some money and they can find a cure for AMD. Not only for us but for our kids too,” says Kerry.
“Feeling a bit of discomfort on a bike and begging lots of people for money is the least we can do.”
In it together
Kerry and Leesa are avid cyclists, but road riding was completely new to Sharon, who hadn’t picked up a bike since childhood.
With less than two-and-a-half months to train, she had to quickly learn the ropes.
“For me, it was a crash course in everything to do with riding a bike. And then I had to put in the miles to get the strength to be able to keep going,” says Sharon.
To prepare for the event, the trio would travel to different parts of Gippsland for training rides. They recall a particularly challenging day, where they had to cycle off-road in the pouring rain.
“There were a few ‘Why the hell are we doing this?’ moments. But at the end of the day, we’re doing it for mum and dad,” says Leesa.
She concedes the “killer” training rides did have one surprising upside.
“I think we’ve spent more time together in the last two months than we have in the last 20 years!”
The 2023 Lions Ride for Sight
This year’s event was held April 14-16 and involved 25 cyclists pedalling over 150 kilometres through South Gippsland’s picturesque, but notoriously hilly, terrain.
Another seven riders completed the Ride for Sight Challenge, cycling a distance of their choice over four weeks.
For Team Sisters, it was a challenging but rewarding experience.
“I was a bit nervous as I had no idea what to expect, but the team that put it on are a great group of people. All the Lions Clubs helped out and it was really well organised,” says Leesa.
“At times you questioned yourself and your sanity, but we stuck together and totally enjoyed it.”
When the last day of the event was unexpectedly cancelled due to inclement weather, the sisters decided to complete the final leg the following week. They were also joined by seven other event riders.
“We had to do it for the people who had donated – as well as for ourselves,” says Sharon.
Riding for research
Team Sisters initially aimed to raise $10,000, but surpassed all expectations, reaching a total of $30,800.
Pam and Colin are long-standing members of the Lions Club, and the whole family lives and works in the South Gippsland area.
“When you’ve been involved in the community, the community supports you,” he says.
This year’s Lions Ride for Sight raised a record-breaking $75,000.
Managing Director Professor Keith Martin said the support will have a significant impact on CERA’s research.
“A massive thanks to all the riders, donors, organisers who help make the event a success,” he says.
“And congratulations to Ride for Sight Chair Ian de Bruyne for receiving the Ian M Stockdale Humanitarian Award – well deserved for his many years of service leading the event.”
This article first appeared in Visionary magazine – Spring 2023.