Pedals power a fitting memorial

Having a friend or family member pass away before their time can be a devastating experience for those left behind.

While many mourners retreat into private grief, some gain comfort and a sense of purpose from honouring the memory of their loved one in a very public way.

When massage therapist and triathlon coach Mark Smoothy, 51, lost his thrice-weekly training buddy and great mate Adam Smiddy in 2006, he reacted with shock and anger.

A physiotherapist at Brisbane's Princess Alexandra Hospital, Smiddy passed away at age 26 after a brief battle with an aggressive melanoma.“I'd never lost anyone close to me before … I just got angry,” Smoothy says.

“I remember his father calling and telling me his son passed away. I was in the car and I pulled over and cried for 10 or 15 minutes … It came to me, I'm going to do something about this.”

Shortly after the funeral, Smoothy visited his friend's parents to obtain their blessing for a bike ride in their son's name. The course was one Smiddy had talked of attempting before he fell ill – an epic 1600-kilometre pedal up the eastern seaboard to Townsville.

“His father has got a real dry sense of humour,” Smoothy says. “He said, 'Smoothy, I think you're bloody crazy but you've got my permission'. He thought I was a nutter.”

The ride, dubbed Smiling for Smiddy, was intended to be a one-off, but buoyed by the support he and his two companions received during the week-long ride - and for the blog that accompanied it - Smoothy decided to make it an annual event.

In the second year, 22 participants raised $190,000 in sponsorship and by the third, rider numbers swelled to 50 and the collection bucket totalled $420,000 for the PA Research Foundation and the Mater Foundation.


Participants were typically hardcore cyclists whose lives had been touched by cancer.

“It's really nice, every time we get a field of riders, they're all so like-minded, the bonding happens really quickly,” Smoothy says.

Fast-forward to 2014 and his homage to his mate has evolved into a fundraising pedal-powerhouse that has raised more than $4 million for cancer research and support services.

Last year Smiling for Smiddy staged 10 rides, including the original haul to Townsville, the midi-Smiddy - a 580 kilometre-round trip to the Queensland country town of Warwick - and a week-long tour through the French Alps. Rides are limited to around 50 participants who commit to generating an agreed level of sponsorship.

Running the events has morphed into a four-day-a-week job for Smoothy, who says the opportunity to honour Adam and his love of the open road has provided an outlet for sadness that's been lessened only somewhat by time.

“I sometimes think if I didn't start (Smiling for) Smiddy, I would think of [Adam] less often,” he says.

“It keeps him top of mind … I still miss him and sometimes think he's going to walk through the door for training one day.

“It's wonderful what we've managed to achieve in Adam's name. It's definitely been a positive for me and for his parents – they've said that without Smiling for Smiddy they don't know if they could've gone on.”

Newcastle Knights assistant coach and former Australian rugby league player Kevin Walters says throwing his weight behind a breast cancer charity provided similar comfort when his first wife Kim died of the disease in 1998, aged 30.

A community support initiative for women diagnosed with breast cancer, the Kim Walters Choices Program, delivers free services to more than 12,000 women annually.

The charity focuses on providing emotional support and practical help, including physiotherapy, post-surgery exercise classes and a wig and turban library.

“It would've been something Kim would've been proud to be associated with,” Walters says.

“She got a lot of comfort out of speaking to other women involved with the disease.”

While talking publicly at events was emotional in the early years, Walters says supporting the program has been “really good therapy” for himself and sons Jack, Billy and Jett, all of whom attend Choices functions with their dad.

“Kim's mum and dad and her side of the family got a lot of positive influence from the program as well,” Walters says.

Developing a clear mission is the key to ensuring a charity set up in the wake of a tragic loss will endure, adds Judith Slocombe, the long-time CEO of The Alannah and Madeline Foundation (AMF).

Established in memory of the Mikac sisters who died, aged 6 and 3, in the Port Arthur massacre of 1996, AMF focuses on reducing violence against children.

It has offered care to 1.5 million children through initiatives including anti-bullying programs in schools and 'buddy bags' for children entering emergency accommodation.

“Lots of charities start with lots of people and goodwill but don't keep going or reinvent themselves,” Slocombe says.

“We've not lost sight of why we're there and what we're for.”