Twenty years ago the courage of a 12-year-old girl with terminal cancer inspired Shellharbour’s Andrew O’Shea during a charity bike ride from Bathurst to Broken Hill.
This month the 45-year-old will get back in the saddle to raise funds and awareness for country hospitals, while also paying tribute to that girl – Kelly Mahy – who sadly died just after her 18th birthday.
On Thursday Mr O’Shea will set off from Shellharbour with five other riders, and support crew, for the approximately 1000 kilometre trek to Tilpa.
There will be an emotional stop at Cobar to greet Kelly’s parents, Bill and Faye, and to make a donation of up to $20,000 to Cobar Hospital where their daughter spent much of her young life.
‘’When we did this 20 years ago to raise money for Ronald McDonald House and Sydney Children’s Hospital, it made a massive impression in all our lives meeting families along the way with kids like Kelly all suffering cancer,’’ Mr O’Shea said.
‘’Kelly was living 110 kilometres west of Cobar, her parents were on 50,000 acres of farming land and were going through real hardship with five kids, all this with their little girl having terminal cancer.
‘’They made the weekly trip to Sydney Children’s Hospital to keep their little girl alive for as long as they could.’’
Mr O’Shea, originally from Condobolin, hopes his efforts will also teach his own four kids that everyone can make a difference.
‘’After moving to Sydney for work as a young man, I started donating my time to Ronald McDonald House and befriended a lot of families who’d come from the bush,’’ he said.
‘’That’s why I took part in the first ride and we saw firsthand how tough it can be for families when their loved ones are sick and need specialist treatment in the city.
‘’Often families are split apart for weeks, months even, when one parent needs to be with a child in hospital and the other has to stay on the land to keep the income coming in and care for the other kids.’’
Mr O’Shea said Illawarra businesses and community members had helped sponsor the riders, and they also hoped to raise more during the seven-day ride.
‘’We will be able to offer the money to Cobar Hospital to purchase much-needed equipment and also to help out other NSW country hospitals,’’ he said.
‘’These country hospitals are the first point of contact for these families and play a vital role in their children’s care.’’
Two decades on, Mr O’Shea admitted he’s not quite as fit, yet just as passionate about the cause.
For updates on the riders’ progress, or to donate, visit the Ocean to Outback Bike Ride Facebook page.