A group of Ballarat residents is pedalling hard during the last few days of the Great Cycle Challenge, as they race to raise money to fight childhood cancers.
Hosted each October, the Great Cycle Challenge involves teams all around Australia jumping on their bikes and challenging themselves, all while fundraising for the Children's Medical Research Institute (CMRI) to help to develop better treatments and find cancer cures.
Once again, a team of Ballarat community members is leading the charge. In the top five on the national leaderboard, the 35 members of Club SMS set the goal to collectively ride the distance from Ballarat to Mount Everest within the month - a distance of about 10,000-kilometres.
Last year, in their first year participating, team members rode a similar distance of just over 10,000-kilometres - from Ballarat to New Delhi - and raised almost $25,000.
But despite the challenges of the year amid a pandemic, this year the team has exceeded this amount - so far raising more than $35,000, though they hope to raise further funds with a few days still to go.
"With COVID this year, we didn't think we would come anywhere close to last year's amount so the support from the public has been unbelievable. We are all stunned and amazed by the support we've had," Club SMS team member Bobby Mehta said.
"To raise more than $55,000 to help kids with cancer during the last two years is just brilliant."
Mr Mehta said the challenge was a positive way to do some good during what had been a very difficult year for everyone.
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"Even in these pretty dark, dismal times, you can still do something positive," he said, noting that while COVID was presenting difficulties for many people, there are families living the nightmare of having a child with cancer every single day.
Every year, 600 Australian children are diagnosed with cancer and sadly, three die from cancer each week.
Even in these pretty dark, dismal times, you can still do something positiveBobby Mehta
"Being a parent, the idea of kids having cancer is something that resonates with me and a lot of people," Mr Mehta said.
"I think we all can appreciate the difficulties and the emotional rollercoaster that you must go through when you have a child with a horrific condition."
Participating in the challenge has not only seen the team raise funds and awareness of childhood cancer, but it has also benefited them - it has inspired participants to venture outdoors and exercise and has also been a way to stay connected with friends.
While the team has clocked up kilometres all over Ballarat - from the Skipton Rail Trail to laps of Lake Wendouree - choosing a landmark destination to ride towards has been a great source of motivation, as participants have been able to virtually travel the world along the way - a few days ago they were in Malaysia, and a few days before that they arrived in Singapore.
While the vast majority of the team is in Ballarat, there is one team member riding for the cause in Jammu and another, a doctor, in the United Kingdom. There are also a number of children riding in Club SMS.
Largely a group of friends, being part of Club SMS has also been a way to virtually stay connected despite restrictions. And for those that didn't know each other beforehand, it has been a way to meet new people.
The group members are cycling under the name Club SMS, which is a not for profit Mr Mehta set up in London in 2001.
It has always used sport as a way to bring people together with the aim to raise money for charities which help the less fortunate. While in the past this has been largely through soccer or cricket, cycling is now in the mix.
To donate to Club SMS' fundraising efforts, visit: https://greatcyclechallenge.com.au/Teams/ClubSMS