Cycling across the Nullarbor Plain has been tough going for two brothers aged in their 50s, but the pair is inspired to keep pedalling by the strength and courage of veterans and first responders suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Brian and Ian Schumacher are embarking on a monumental 4400km coast-to-coast Australian bike ride from Fremantle to Sydney to raise funds and awareness for Integra Service Dogs Australia, an organisation that trains service dogs for veterans and first responders with PTSD.
Talking to Region Media from the Nullarbor Roadhouse after a hot and dusty 180km ride along the edge of the Great Australian Bight, Brian says the response to their campaign has been phenomenal.
“We’re riding along, literally in the middle of nowhere, and people drive past tooting their horns and waving,” he said.
“Everywhere we stop, people come over and start chatting about what we’re doing. It’s fabulous.
“We’ve met so many of our fellow Australians in the outback and as soon as we mention Integra Service Dogs and how they are saving lives, people ask how they can donate.
“People just get it. They know that as a country we’ve got to look after those who look after us.”
The brothers commenced their journey on 1 April and will ride through desert, mountains, cities and outback towns, finishing in Sydney on 15 May.
They plan to pedal into Canberra on 11 May, where they’ll have morning tea with Integra Service Dogs Australia patrons, the Governor General of Australia His Excellency General the Honourable David Hurley, and his wife, Her Excellency Linda Hurley.
Brian says he’s excited to be riding into Canberra to meet dignitaries and sponsors, as well as family members – even if it means a hard slog through the mountainous regions around Corryong and Thredbo to get there.
“It blows our mind a bit that the Governor General is coming to meet us,” he said.
Brian says service dogs have helped many vets attend public services they have previously been unable to endure for eight or nine years due to PTSD.
“The impact of providing vulnerable people with a support dog that gives them renewed purpose, greater confidence and unconditional support is life changing,” he said.
“These dogs really help people – they are saving lives.”
The ride coincides with Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s announcement of the Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran Suicide.
“We have always recognised that the rate of suicide of Australian Defence Force members and veterans is unacceptably high,”Prime Minister Morrison said.
“In recognising the sacrifices made by our serving and former members, and their families, on behalf of the nation, we owe it to members, veterans and their families to continue to take action.”
Brian and Ian are seeking to raise funds through corporate sponsorship and public donations, and Canberra’s Community Bank group has jumped onboard with funding.
Dean Goulder, executive officer of Molonglo Financial Services, which operates Canberra’s Community Bank branches, says he has seen firsthand the remarkable impact the service dogs have had on the lives of veterans they are partnered with.
“Throughout their 44-day journey, Brian and Ian will be travelling through many communities and in many of them, a Community Bank will be there to cheer them on,” he said.
“We’ll be waiting when they arrive in Canberra.”
Integra dogs are specially trained to become emotionally tuned to their handler and provide unconditional support through the trauma and stresses of everyday life.
It costs about $35,000 to train, match and place an Integra dog with a veteran or first responder, such as a former police officer or emergency services worker who is suffering from PTSD.
After losing their sister, Merilyn, to suicide in 1997 after a long battle with mental illness, Brian and Ian are passionate about supporting mental health initiatives and getting behind causes such as Integra Service Dogs Australia.
Brian has sons in the police force and army so he understands the pressures on first responders and defence force personnel.
Their decision to ride for Integra Service Dogs Australia came not long after the Black Summer bushfires that ravaged so many communities in 2019-2020, when it was expected that many of those brave first responders would themselves suffer long-term trauma associated with their work.
Brian says despite a few setbacks – including a fall 19 days into the ride in the middle of the Nullarbor, which resulted in head and shoulder injuries and a trip to hospital – the brothers are “hugely driven” by the team at Integra to push on.
“We know how important it is for people to receive these dogs,” he said.
“All we have to do is keep pedalling and stay upright. This is our way of saying thank you for your service.”
You can donate to Brian and Ian’s coast-to-coast ride for Integra Service Dogs Australia here.