On Saturday 5 November, Mal Gibson will take on the Upstream 50km Challenge for the third year in a row, just three years since learning how to walk again.
This year I’m taking on my third Upstream Challenge. In 2014 I did the 20km walk and felt pretty darn good about that. Last year I roped my brother and a couple of friends in and we survived the 50km walk. This year I’m tackling the 50km walk again. Now 50km is a long walk you might think, and you’d be right. But think about how long it is when just 3 and a bit years ago you had a stroke, spent 3 months in rehab and had to learn how to walk all over again.
Prior to 27 July 2013 I was a reasonably fit, healthy, non-smoking, non-drinking (almost), non-overweight 51-year-old primary school teacher. Then that night, at a dinner dance for my niece and nephew’s primary school while dancing to one of my favourite songs, my arm dropped to my side, my mouth drooped and my leg stopped obeying commands – I’d had a stroke.
Three months later I was discharged from the Royal Talbot Rehab Centre where I’d learnt to talk again, and to walk very slowly and for very short distances. At home I was determined to ditch the wheelchair and then the walking stick for good. I started doing very slow circuits of our court, then worked my way up to going around the block. In those days that was enough to exhaust me for a couple of hours.
But I kept on walking longer distances, bit by bit. I’d walk to my outpatient rehab appointments, and then home again. I’d walk around the neighbourhood. I’d walk around the local shopping centre. Eventually I decided to walk along the Yarra River for the Upstream Challenge.
I chose to walk for the Summer Foundation because a lot of younger people in nursing homes have experienced stroke. Stroke can strike anyone, young or old, healthy or unhealthy, as I learnt all too well!
So I did the 20km, with the support and encouragement of my brother Colin and my mate Denis who walked with me. It took us about six hours (Col and Den could have done it much quicker without me) but we made it. And that sense of accomplishment was enough to spur me on to try the 50km in 2015.
Last year we trained a bit more purposefully, doing a few 15, 20 and 30km training walks. We recruited another mate, Jon, to walk with us, and the four of us crossed the finish line after 11.25 hours! We were all exhausted, footsore and relieved it was over but we did it, by Jove we did it!
This year we’ll do it again. We’re in training and we know what’s ahead of us, but we also know what a great feeling it will be when we cross that line. Hopefully we’ll finish in less time than last year but it’s not a race, just getting there is what matters.
So, if I can do it, with my leg that doesn’t work all that well, and my arm that doesn’t work at all, and the fatigue that still plagues me since the stroke, then what’s stopping you? Walk for your own satisfaction, walk for the more than 6000 young people still stuck in nursing homes, walk to raise money for a great cause. Just get out there and walk!
Join Mal in supporting the Summer Foundation in its third and final year as a beneficiary of the Upstream Challenge.