Lifestyle

Schwass gets on his bike to prevent suicides

By Charmayne Allison

ZERO.

That’s the number on Wayne Schwass’ heart, the number he’s striving towards.

Zero suicides.

Because one is too many.

And in 2017 alone, there were 3128 in Australia — a chilling nine per cent increase on the year before.

But Schwass, former AFL star and mental health campaigner, refuses to hang up the boots and say all hope is lost.

He genuinely believes suicide is preventable if the discussion of mental health and emotional wellbeing is no longer silenced.

Over 10 days, he and 33 other cyclists (including AFL legends Ryan O’Keefe and Scott Cummings) slapped on the lycra and took to the streets to spread this vital message.

The Puka Up 2019 Grand Tour saw the team ride 1800km across Victoria, stopping in multiple towns — including Echuca last Tuesday.

Puka Up is a social enterprise committed to raising awareness about mental health, emotional wellbeing and suicide prevention.

Schwass said the 2019 tour was less about the bike ride and more about the powerful discussions along the way.

‘‘The ride, simply, is a conversation starter around suicide prevention, because we lose on average eight people a day to this terrible issue,’’ he said.

‘‘We’re seven-and-a-half days in and I’m confident we are achieving what we set out to achieve.’’

The tour also features an eye-catching black truck which locals have been encouraged to sign.

During a stopover in Albury, Schwass had a conversation which would stay with him forever.

‘‘A man who was about 65 walked past, saw the truck and burst into tears,’’ he said.

‘‘He found the strength to come over and shared with us that he’d lost his son 13 days ago to suicide.

‘‘He thanked us for what we were doing and then as he was leaving he said, ‘I’m committing to make sure I go and save someone else’s life’.

‘‘Now there’s a dad who’s lost his son. How a man finds that strength in that heartache and pain is beyond me but that moment validated how important this campaign is.’’

To learn more about Puka Up, visit pukaup.com