Marathon runner Jess Peil still recalls when a family friend lay on top of her during a family holiday as a 14-year-old, but she describes the incident as nothing compared to the conversations people are now having about child sexual abuse and exploitation.
For Jess and five other Canberra runners who are bonded by the challenge of completing seven marathons in seven days for this year’s Bravehearts’ 777 Marathon, their motivation is more about educating people about preventing child abuse than the challenge of running.
“A lot of people focus on the fact we run a long way,” Jess tells Region Media. “I think the awareness now with having [Australian of the Year] Grace Tame’s [sexual abuse] campaign and the awareness of why we are raising this amount of money and why we’re doing all the running is really coming forward a lot more.
“Nothing happened to me compared with what other people I’ve spoken to have been through, but so many people are now wanting to do events and speak out so it’s more important than ever we keep running.”
Less than a month before the group’s first marathon in Queensland, on 28 June, Jess and the largest contingent of Canberra runners to take part in the Bravehearts’ challenge have already raised almost $70,000 for the charity to provide counselling, education, research and lobbying for people affected by child sexual abuse.
Jess, the ‘veteran’ of the group, is taking part in her third Bravehearts’ challenge. The first marathon was meant to take place in Perth on 28 June, followed by marathons each day in separate states, however the COVID-19 pandemic has meant all of the marathons are moved to Queensland where runners will compete in Toowoomba, Brisbane, Mount Isa, Cairns, Townsville, Mackay and the Gold Coast.
Jess also leads the national tally of money raised for this year’s Bravehearts’ 777 Marathon, having raised more than $23,300 from fundraising events such as clothes sales and selling handmade items.
Father and son team, John Wilson and 16-year-old Ben, have raised almost $20,000 between them, while Ross Scott has raised more than $11,000. Australian rules footballer with the Tuggeranong Valley women’s first-grade side, Kaiti Primrose, has also raised more than $10,000.
Jess says the group of Canberra runners will do a “few very casual laps” of Lake Ginninderra on Sunday, 13 June, to get the required funds for the group to participate in the Bravehearts’ 777 Marathon.
Jess says Grace Tame’s #letherspeak campaign, and Queanbeyan-born actor Nathan Spiteri’s #notmyfault campaign, and his subsequent book, Toy Cars, released earlier this year, have also helped to shine a spotlight on preventing child abuse.
“What happened to me was significant, but if I was a six-year-old child, I can’t even begin to imagine what that would be like,” says Jess. “There are so many more stories out there like that of Grace and Nathan’s.
“That’s why I keep saying we will keep running as far and as long as it takes. The pain of running seven marathons is nothing compared to the pain people who have been affected by child abuse experience.”
Ben Wilson will be the youngest person to ever tackle the Bravehearts’ 777 Marathon. He is guided by his father, John, who completed the event in 2019.
Jess says John and herself are also mentoring the others who are doing the Bravehearts’ challenge for the first time.
“I overpacked and overprepared for my first event so they have lots of questions about what happens, but when we arrive in Queensland for that first marathon, everyone becomes one big family who are there to get each other over the line.
“It’s something that just makes you want to keep on going, and I’m very sure this group will do us proud.”
You can support the Canberra Bravehearts runners at Lake Ginninderra on Sunday, 13 June, from 7:00 am until about 12:00 pm when they will run a few laps of the lake as part of their fundraising campaign.
You can find out more about Bravehearts and help each of the Canberra runners achieve their fundraising goal by finding their fundraising page on the Bravehearts’ 777 Marathon website.