Thousands of trekkers, both local and international, are gearing up for one of Australia's most popular fundraising adventure treks, the Wild Women On Top Sydney Coastrek.
Trekkers have the choice of walking either 60 kilometres from Manly to Bondi or 30 kilometres from Kirribilli to Bondi and raise vital funds to restore sight in some of the world's poorest communities
Each year, teams of four, including at least two women, aim to raise at least $2,000 for The Foundation.
Some trekkers travel across the country and around the world to take on the challenge and help end avoidable blindness
One of these amazing people is Melissa Brown from Hong Kong who is flying to Sydney to take on the 60 kilometre trek with her team 'Bubbles'.
Although this quartet live oceans apart, in Sydney, Hong Kong, and Bangkok, they bridge the distance by keeping in touch over social media and sharing photos and details about their trainings and treks.
This will be Melissa’s second Sydney Coastrek and she says the hills of Hong Kong are a perfect training ground. But to strengthen the bond with her teammates, she went to Bangkok to do a training walk with her teammate Katherine Johns, while their Sydney teammates Mike Sidgreaves and Rob Caruana trekked from Manly to the Spit on Sydney Harbour.
"Coastrek is a great way to keep fit, spend 12 plus hours with some good friends, and give back to one of Australia's most respected charities," Melissa said.
This year Sydney Coastrek aims to raise $2.8 million which could restore sight for thousands of people.
Of the 32.4 million people in the world who are blind, three out of five are women and girls, so it’s fitting that most trekkers taking part in Coastrek are women who want to help other women by supporting The Fred Hollows Foundation.
Trekker Stacey Storrier and her team, 'Lachlan Legends', from Hillston, NSW, are four mums and friends who are setting out to walk the 60 kilometre trek. Two of their daughters have sight problems which they have been lucky enough to be able to correct, but as mothers they empathise with others who are not afforded the same opportunities.
"If we are able to help restore sight to even just one person through our fundraising for Coastrek, it makes the task so much more rewarding and gratifying," Stacey said.
Another powerhouse group of mums are the 'Wonder Women' from Lane Cove in North Sydney, who will trek for 30 kilometres along Sydney’s coastline. Team member Kate Talifero made health and fitness a priority after a health scare 11 years ago, when she received a brain tumour prognosis.
PHOTO: Wonder Women, courtesy of North Shore Times
"Paying it forward and giving back to the community is essential," Kate said. "Our eyes are the 'windows to our soul', so to help achieve that for others who cannot see is life changing. I love nature and completing a walk of this distance will be an achievement."
Since it started in 2010 Coastrek has inspired more than 20,000 trekkers and raised more than $16 million for The Fred Hollows Foundation to restore sight.
Joanne Bancroft and her team of perioperative nurses from Westmead Hospital have already doubled their fundraising goal and have raised over $4,300. 'Team Darcy' held a bake sale and put up posters at the hospital promoting the event. Each day more and more people would donate.
"This event is so important because we're raising vital funds to help end avoidable blindness in some of the world’s poorest communities," Joanne said.
PHOTO: Team Darcy, taken by Isabella Lettini for Hills News, Fairfax Media
Joanne's team is not the only one to have exceeded the $2,000 fundraising goal. Trekker Michael Rogers, who will travel to Sydney from his home in Perth to join Sydney Coastrek, has raised more than $10,000 for The Foundation.
Michael will trek with his daughter Annabel and her flatmates on the team 'WAWA Walkers'.
Nearly 3,700 trekkers will walk for six to 18 hours to complete the trek, including several teams of staff from The Fred Hollows Foundation.
The Foundation’s employee Nicole Cunningham will be among them.
“It feels good to be able to have such a direct part in the fundraising for such an amazing cause knowing how much The Foundation changes people’s lives," Nicole (at left in the photo above) said.
Gabi Hollows, Founding Director of The Fred Hollows Foundation, saw trekkers off at the startline and welcomed them at the finish.
"This year we mark the 25th anniversary of The Fred Hollows Foundation and I am incredibly moved and inspired to see people still going to such great lengths to help realise Fred’s vision of a world where no person is needlessly blind," she said.
"To everyone participating in this year’s Sydney Coastrek, thank you for giving the gift of sight by taking on this challenge. We are incredibly grateful for your support."
Founder and CEO of Wild Women on Top Coastrek, Di Westaway, said Sydney Coastrek was a way for women to come together for their own health and wellbeing, while also changing the lives of others.
"Coastrek helps women feel awesome about themselves and about helping others. It supports them in regaining their confidence, often after health or personal challenges, and helps them to be active and healthy," she said.
"Coastrek has an even greater impact on the millions of women and girls who make up two-thirds of the world’s blind.
"By taking part in Coastrek, women are restoring sight to other women, which helps them to return to work so they can provide for themselves and their families, and also helps girls to return to school and continue their education."
Sydney Coastrek will return in 2018.
The next Melbourne Coastrek will be held on The Mornington Peninsula on Friday 26 May, and the first-ever Sunshine Coastrek will take place on Friday 28 July. Visit the Melbourne Coastrek and Sunshine Coastrek pages for more information and to register.