“I’m not going to sponsor you, but I’ll ride with you.” If these sound like unusual words from the organiser of one of NSW Police Legacy’s largest fundraising events, it’s because The Remembrance Ride came into being almost by accident.
When Senior Constable Craig Tonks’s mate, recovering from lymphoma and the aggressive chemotherapy used to treat the disease, told Craig he was riding from Sydney to Canberra to raise money for Lymphoma Australia, Craig offered to ride with him. And as they rode together down the Hume Highway, Craig began to think about another charity dear to his heart, and to wonder if there was some way he could do this to aid NSW Police Legacy.
He got talking to George Adams, the organiser of the Sydney-Wollongong ride celebrating 150 years of The NSW Police Force. And then he got talking to Sue Waites, the then chair of NSW Police Legacy. And then he got talking to his mates. Soon enough he had 21 riders interested, and a modest goal to raise $5,000 for Police Legacy. That first year, they raised over $17,000.
The money was one thing, but something Craig hadn’t anticipated was the camaraderie. “It was tough out there, that first year,” he says. “The weather was terrible, but we stuck it out.” They rode together through the storms, and that become something of a metaphor for the event, and everything it stood for. “I’m riding up this hill, and it’s hurting, but I know there are families out there who would do anything to have their loved one back. This is a small amount of pain.”
Everyone was riding either for someone they knew who had suffered a personal tragedy, or riding to move through their own hurt. By doing so they were riding for something bigger than any one of themselves, and it was this that really became the strength of the event.
“You feel like you’re part of a bigger picture,” says Craig. “That’s the key.”
The word spread. The second year 62 riders took part, and raised over $61,000. Everyone was tapping into that feeling of belonging, and of contributing to something that was bigger than themselves. The riders were mostly police or ex-police, some suffering from PTSD, and Craig describes the ride as playing an important part in their healing journey.
Craig works together with a core team of event organisers, including Brian Yates and Daniel Sullivan, and is always pleased at the support the event receives. The event is strongly backed by NSW Police local area commands, who help out with logistics along the way, and by the Police Academy in Goulburn, where riders break their journey on one of the overnight stops.
Every year the ride continues to grow, and shows no sign of losing its momentum. What’s the ultimate goal? “I want to help people before they need Legacy,” says Craig. “I don’t want to go to any more funerals. I want to help people before they get to that point.”
Last year, “helping people” had a bankable amount of more than $122,000, and this year’s ride is looking to rival that. By any measure, that is a lot of help.
If you'd like to support this year's Remembrance Ride, please go to the event's GoFundraise page.