Epic ride to help special children

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Southland grandfather Eion McKenzie, also known as Poppa (back right) and brother Allan with children from the Waihopai School Park Syndicate (from left) Finn Moss-MacDonald (8), Hunter Hammond-Corboy (11) and Poppa's grandson Ollie Walton (10) at the school this week. Photo: Petrina Wright

SOUTHLAND grandfather Eion McKenzie and his brother Allan are about to embark on an epic personal challenge, one which will also benefit a special group of Southland children.

The brothers are among 1100 cyclists taking part in the Tour Aotearoa Brevet Challenge, cycling 3000km from Cape Reinga to Bluff within 30 days. They set off on Monday.

Neither had any previous experience in endurance cycling, so this would be a first for the pair, something they were somewhat apprehensive about.

“We know how to ride a bike, that’s about all,” Eion said.

They said they expected their biggest challenges would be adjusting to the humidity and warmer temperatures in the North Island and the requirement of the ride to be totally self-supported.

They had initially entered the ride as a personal challenge, but it had since become something much more.

Eion decided to use the ride to raise funds to buy interactive and multi-sensory playground equipment for the Waihopai School Park Syndicate unit where his grandson Ollie goes to school.

Eion said he attended a Christmas function at the school last year and noticed the difference the staff had made in his grandson’s life.

The Waihopai School Park Syndicate was an educational facility within Waihopai School which catered for pupils with physical disabilities and additional learning needs.

“It was very inspiring to see the care and the love the teachers were giving to the kids… and I thought, what can I do to help.”

Raising funds for the playground would help motivate him and get him through the pain during the ride, he said.

At present, the outdoor area set aside for the pupils in the syndicate unit consisted of a sectioned-off concrete area containing a couple of sheds and some seating.

Syndicate team leader Jacqui McDowall said the children could only use the school’s other playground equipment if they were supervised.

“It will be lovely to be able to come out here and play on equipment which is stimulating, safe and accessible, and meets their sensory needs.”

The new play equipment would be available for all children in the school to use, making it “inclusive and accessible to all”, she said.

Mrs McDowall was very appreciative of what Eion was doing for the children.

“It is huge to bike the length of the country raising funds for our playground.

“I have been teaching upwards of 25 years and no-one has ever done something like this for us before.”

his goal was to raise at least $25,000. So far he had raised $15,000, which included $7000 donated from several Southland businesses.

To support Eion’s fundraising efforts, visit his Facebook page Poppa bikes from Cape Reinga to Bluff.

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