Mates on the road for men's health

Danella BevisThe West Australian
Mates 500 runners Mat Johnston, Paul Omodei, Shane Sander, Wayne Barnden, Ryan Taylor and Tyler Caldwell stand tall after completing day one of the relay.
Camera IconMates 500 runners Mat Johnston, Paul Omodei, Shane Sander, Wayne Barnden, Ryan Taylor and Tyler Caldwell stand tall after completing day one of the relay. Credit: Countryman

It may have been a long and unforgiving hot first day out on the bitumen, but the Mates 500 Relay runners took it all in their stride.

On Monday, the mates arrived in Kalannie an awe-inspiring two hours ahead of schedule.

Setting off from Mukinbudin at 4am, the team of six - Manjimup's Paul Omodei, Wayne Barnden and Mat Johnston, Perth's Shane Sander, Nyabing's Tyler Caldwell and Kukerin's Ryan Taylor - pushed on despite the temperature rising to 35C, running 28km each.

PICTURE GALLERY: Cool runnings |

Twelve runners in total will take to the road during the course of the 1500km event, which will pass through 33 towns en route to the finish line in Manjimup on April 3.

So far this year, the team has raised an impressive $50,000 for the Regional Men's Health Initiative and the Prostate Cancer Foundation of Australia.

They are hoping to double that figure by the end of the relay, as they endeavour to boost the profile of men's health in regional WA.

The team and their support crew were due to arrive in Merredin yesterday, where three of the runners will be relieved of their duties by three new team members.

The converted school bus they call home runs like a well-oiled machine, packed to the rafters with adhesive sports tape, first-aid kits, towels and sunscreen.

Two Engels take pride of place in the centre, brimming with sports drinks, water, lollies, sandwiches and icy poles.

At the back of the bus, camper beds complete with pillows are perfect for a kip between runs.

Two massage tables make life a little easier for on-board sports trainer Mick Terrigno and physiotherapist Jodi Johnston, wife of Mat and sister to Paul, who are charged with rubbing down runners with aching hamstrings and calf muscles.

The smell of sweat is barely noticeable above the deep heat.

Tubs of cold water help to keep ice vests cool between runs, while a line of Post-it notes on the window above the bus driver keep an informal tally of runs.

A coffee machine "for the support crew" even sits in the corner.

Mates 500 chairman and runner Paul Omodei said the adrenaline and excitement among the team and support crew was high.

"We're really happy with the runners, they got through virtually unscathed, which is good because the first day off, doing 29 to 30km straight up, is a big ask," he said.

"They are really keen, they believe in what we're doing and when you're passionate about something I think it works really well."

It takes a huge amount of food, not to mention about 10 sports drinks per day, to keep the runners hydrated and teeming with enough energy to cross the finish line.

Mates 500 sponsorship and events co-ordinator Annie May said IGA stores around the State had offered to supply a full day of food each day of the relay and the support crew had even been stopped in the street by people wanting to make donations.

Contributions from local businesses had been overwhelming.

"The support is wonderful. These are only small country towns and business is tough but they still find time to do a good thing," she said.

Regional Men's Health Initiative senior community educator and executive officer Owen Catto said the Relay had been integral to allowing the organisation to lift its profile and fund special projects.

"Sitting in that support vehicle behind the runners is inspiring and they set a hectic pace," he said.

"We've had three farmers come to the fence and say, 'Hey, what's going on?'

"That is profound … just the awareness, that's what I get excited about. You can't put a dollar value on it, you can't judge its true value."

West Coast Eagles champion Glen Jakovich will speak at the Bruce Rock Sports Pavilion tonight from 7pm, while Australian cricketing champion Bruce Yardley will be the guest speaker at the Cyril Box Pavilion in Corrigin on Friday.

Functions are due to be held in every town the team stops over in, including Kulin, Kukerin, Gnowangerup, Wagin, Kojonup and, finally, Manjimup.

For information or to donate, go to mates500relay.org.au.

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