For more than four years, PukaUp has been helping Fonterra to elevate mental wellbeing within its business. Through its Healthy Minds program, Fonterra has been working with its employees, farmers and communities to destigmatise the topic of mental health, making genuine conversations around the topic a part of everyday life. It’s something that its employees, including AJ, are incredibly proud of.
The challenge took place along Victoria’s Great Ocean Road, renowned for its steep inclines and headwinds, as well as a scenic backdrop.
Reflecting on the experience, AJ said the event was more than just cycling; it was about camaraderie and mutual support among participants.
“The three days were much more than cycling; they were about mutual support, and I can make that connection now looking back.
“On the second day, after a morning of challenging climbs, we turned back onto the Great Ocean Road into a ripper 30-50Km/hr headwind, facing 40 undulating kilometres.
“I led for about a kilometre before feeling the energy drain out of my body. I kept going, but doubt started to creep in, and I questioned how I was going to keep this up for another 38km.
“My legs burning like you couldn’t imagine, breathing was hard, and my heart rate kept climbing. With 36km left, it felt impossible, and I was ready to pull over.”
“Then, from out of nowhere one of the four riders came up next to me, put his arms around my shoulder and said, ‘We got you, mate. Why didn’t you ask for help?’ The others followed suit, and I am not sure whether I was just physically and mentally tired, but emotions got to me,” AJ said.
“Four strangers were willing to endure hardship to help me. Together, we shared the load in those final kilometres back to Lorne.”
According to AJ, it was this moment when he recognised the connection to mental health. In tough times, collective support can guide you through faltering moments.
“To make this happen, the key is to set aside pride, speak up and let others know what you’re going through. You will be surprised by who will help.
“The team at PukaUp aspires to do this for those who are grappling with mental health issues. I feel privileged to have to have grasped this during the challenge.
“It’s ironic – you hear about the importance of speaking up, but it truly hits home when you're in a position where you need to," mused AJ.
A shocking statistic is that Australia witnesses nearly nine daily suicides, predominantly among men, necessitating collective efforts for a substantial reduction. Initiatives like Cycle for Change and organisations like PukaUp play a crucial role in this.