When Halls Head local Daniel Fitzgerald was 19, he was in a car accident that killed his best friend.
The mental repercussions of this incident were left unresolved up until 2019, when another friend, Whelan Connley, died by suicide at age 44.
"When a small town goes through something like that, it's not just the family that go through it. It shakes the whole town," Mr Fitzgerald said.
The 37 year-old said the event made him realise he needed to seek treatment for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
He participated in a treatment called Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing (EMDR).
"It's helped me deal with the emotions from that night and made my brain process things.
"The brain goes into like a protective mode and locks up when things are too hard to deal with.
"This therapy feels like it opens that up, so thoughts and emotions can be processed."
Mr Fitzgerald said it only took one session of EMDR therapy to notice immediate and substantial benefits.
"It's given me a whole new outlook on life, I'm just so positive."
Prior to this, after Mr Fitzgerald was medically discharged from the navy, he saw a psychologist which he said only somewhat helped him deal with his PTSD.
This September, Mr Fitzgerald will ride from Esperance to his hometown of Omeo, Victoria, in honour of his late friend Whelan.
They have titled their trip, Wheelin' to the mountains, and raised more than their fundraising goal of $4000 in the first five days.
Now the total sits at more than $8000 donated to the Black Dog Institute.
Mr Fitzgerald said he got into cycling shortly before Whelan passed.
The ride was planned for 2020 but COVID-19 border closures stalled the ride.
"We never knew if it was going to happen."
Mr Fitzgerald said it was difficult staying motivated to train at times, without knowing if the ride was going ahead, but he continued nonetheless.
"In the past, I would have really let that get to me, but this time I was like 'Oh well, I'll do it next year'."
Currently, Mr Fitzgerald is riding about 150km a day to prepare for the ride, which starts on September 10.
On his support team are lifelong friends Jamie and Hannah Symons.
The couple are driving over from their hometown of Omeo in Victoria to offer food, water and emotional support along the ride, which is just short of 3000km.
"He was also best mates with Whelan. They flew me home to be at Whelan's funeral.
"When I was at the funeral and just saw the ripple effect, I thought "That could be me in that box'."
Jamie and Hannah own the Golden Age Hotel in Omeo, which is a major sponsor and marks the finish line for the ride on October 1.
"It's gonna be a slow trip for them, driving beside me for three weeks. We're doing about 30km per hour."
"I wouldn't be the person I am without Jamie and Hannah, they're incredible, just selfless."
Also on his support team are his wife Sarah, and his three children, Jack, 7 and twins Georgia and Ashlee, 5.
"Jack's my team manager, he loves handing out the shirts to friends."
His family will support him in the last few days of the ride and cross the finish line with him.
Mr Fitzgerald said he was looking forward to meeting different people along his ride.
One of those people is Erin Allen from Everton, Victoria. Ms Allen got in touch with Mr Fitzgerald, speaking of her own losses to suicide.
Together they will take part in the Blue Tree project, finishing the painting of a blue tree at Ms Allen's property.
Coincidentally, Mr Fitzgerald said he had planned to ride along her street before even speaking to her about the Blue Tree project.
"I've never met her before, but I feel like I've known her for years."
Mr Fitzgerald said he was nervous about the long days and the endlessness of the Nullarbor, as well as the potential of getting injured.
"There is a little bit of doubt but I'm just so positive we'll get it done."
Cycling up Mount Hotham is another challenge Mr Fitzgerald will have to overcome
"I have no way of doing altitude training. We'll just have to see how we go."
A local football club in Omeo will be taking turns joining him for the ride up the mountain, and several people, family and community members will be helping him finish the last few hundred metres to the finish line.
Mr Fitzgerald thanked the community and his sponsors for the support.
- Complete Refrigeration and Air
- Infinity Group
- Kwinana Physiotherapy
- Giant Cycles Mandurah
- Avalon Homes
- Next Level Graphics
- Feel Well
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