31 JULY 2023
Meet our rider of the week Damien.
He’s back this year with his team the Young Guns – legends who together have fundraised over $138,000 since 2009.
This year will be extra special with Damien’s son Sam, joining him on the ride.
He has been eager to do it since he was two years old.
“My wife and kids have been at the start and end of every ride since before he was born - they've been the anchor for the whole thing. He has been counting down the years until he can sign up, and he is very excited. He understands the reason for the ride, and knows that he has the power to help a lot of people.”
Damien has taken part in the MS Gong Ride for 13 of the last 14 years and is excited to ride again this year, after being diagnosed with MS at just 26 years old.
MS often strikes people in the prime of their lives when they are busy building careers and families.
Damien says, "I was initially referred to the neurologist because I had significant facial twitching, and my vision wasn’t right. I returned after I lost sensation in my feet. I had walked over oyster shells and when I got out of the water my feet were bleeding. I had no idea because I couldn't feel the bottom of my feet. It was scary. I was young - only 26 when I was diagnosed, and I still had my whole life ahead of me."
"I was lucky to be included in a trial for a new treatment 12 months after I was diagnosed as the treatment that I had been on failed to slow the progression of the disease and I'd relapsed three times in a year.
“Since that time, I haven't relapsed again. I suffer from numbness in my feet, optic neuritis, muscle aches and I fatigue easily. My face twitches resulting in increased muscle tone on one side. These symptoms are made significantly worse when I am hot, stressed or run-down."
Damien says, "I started doing the Gong Ride the year after my diagnosis. I've always been aware of how lucky I am to be able to participate and wanted to do everything that I could for those who haven't been as lucky.
“In 2009, when I signed up for my first Gong Ride, I didn't comprehend the role that it would play in my life. It has improved it a hundred-fold. It has shown me what I am capable of, it has made me grateful for the hand I have been dealt, and it has shown me the overwhelming support that I have from those around me, especially my wife Georgie and my children.
“The example it has allowed me to set for my children has been another unexpected benefit. I am so proud of the drive, empathy, and generosity that this is teaching them."
The ride can be difficult for Damien. “The heat impacts me pretty seriously and I manage my exposure as best I can through the use of an ice vest, and regular breaks. It really helps keep my core temperature down. Starting the ride at Engadine also helps to make the ride more manageable."
What Damien loves most about the ride is the sense of accomplishment, atmosphere and opportunity to be a part of something greater than himself.
There is always a huge sense of achievement getting out of the National Park and seeing the view down from Bald Hill. The climb out of the National Park is the most grueling part and crossing the finish line then enjoying the vibe at the finish site is always a highlight"
“It’s a fantastic day.”
“MS can impact anybody. It can come on young – that’s the thing many people don’t understand. There's a lot of stigma around it and it’s unpredictable. There's no prognosis.”