By Tim Elliott, Sydney Morning Herald
Combating trauma … engineer Corporal Dan Gilbert said he wanted to help those who were exposed to frontline fighting. Photo: Ben Rushton
THEY have served in Afghanistan and Iraq, seen combat in the Falklands and Africa. So how hard could it be cycling across Australia? ''Well, you don't cycle 4500 kilometres and tell anyone it was easy, because it ain't!'' Lieutenant Colonel Bill O'Donnell said. ''Apart from the physical side, there was the mental challenge of just getting on and off the bike for 30 days straight.''
With nine other cyclists, the 51-year-old O'Donnell pedalled into Sydney on Sunday morning, having led his Ride4Recovery team on a month-long, two-wheel charity dash across Australia. Formed entirely of serving and former Defence personnel, Ride4Recovery raised $23,000 for the RSL-endorsed Mates4Mates campaign, which provides welfare and treatment programs for wounded soldiers and their dependants.
''Mates4Mates is trying to go into more sensitive treatment programs like mental illness and the less obvious injuries where there is a particular need,'' Colonel O'Donnell said.
Cycling for up to eight hours a day, the team faced fatigue, saddle sores and torrential rain, often covering 200 kilometres a day. ''The longest day was 340 kilometres,'' Corporal Dan Gilbert, who turned 29 during the trip, said. ''That included the 90 Mile Straight, on the Nullarbor, which is the longest, straightest stretch of road in Australia.'' Boring? ''No!'' Corporal Gilbert said. ''There's nothing there but so much to see, if that makes sense.''
With three other team members, Corporal Gilbert works as an engineer on army helicopters. ''As technicians we're not involved in frontline fighting, so this was our way of doing our bit to help those who are more likely to suffer injuries from combat.''
The cyclists left Perth on October 7, heading east to Kalgoorlie and Norsman, across the Nullarbor to Ceduna, Adelaide and Melbourne, then up through Canberra to Sydney. For two of the riders, it was familiar territory. ''I rode exactly the same route in 1982,'' Colonel O'Donnell said. ''It was part of a similar idea we had back then to raise money for injured marines after the Falklands War.''
The concept was inspired by an Australian Colonel O'Donnell met in an Earls Court pub. ''We were looking for a challenge, and this Aussie guy said why don't you run across Australia? That didn't seem practical, but cycling was doable, and so me and Andrew Canning, another marine, did it.''
Mr Canning also took part in the latest ride, which reached Martin Place at 9.30am, in time for the memorial service at 11am.
Dated - 12.11.2012