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Riding and rowing for a child in need

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Michael Hobbs meets a member of the Pirates Sporting Club, who have something special planned for Around the Bay.

The sport of rowing conjures up images of private school privilege and exclusivity. But stereotypes don’t always hold—not for the Pirates Sporting Club, whose members have a proud history of giving back to the community and raising funds for a good cause. In 2014 the middle-aged warriors did the ridiculous and rode Melbourne’s blue share-bikes 210km in Bicycle Network’s Around the Bay. This year, they’re going “bigger, better. More ridiculous!”

As if riding the 18kg blue bikes wasn’t enough, they’re also rowing old wooden surf boats across the heads while everyone else catches their breath on the ferry. It’s all for the aptly named Project 222 for which they’ll ride and row 222 kilometres, for 222 children in need of a better education. This herculean effort will support The Smith Family’s education programs focused on breaking the cycle of poverty.

One of the bravest and self-declared “least prepared” of the bunch is Dmitri Colebatch. In just his second year doing the ride, he admits he’s learnt nothing about preparation from his 2014 experience, completing a grand total of two training sessions on the bike. But it’s evident Dmitri’s learnt plenty about the profound impact the Pirates’ fundraising has on disadvantaged children.

Since last year’s ride and fundraising success, Dmitri joined The Smith Family’s tertiary mentoring program. Each week he spends an hour online mentoring a student from Shepparton. “We talk about everything from sport, to music, friends, current affairs, and of course education and career interests,” says Dmitri.

“Students benefit in a number of ways, some simply appreciate having an adult to use as a sounding board for their thoughts. Others get specific career advice,” says Dmitri.

“All benefit from the confidence gained through talking to an adult, and having a positive role model in their lives,” he adds.

Dmitri says he did his research before signing up and raising funds for The Smith Family. “I like the way they go about things. They’re not just about handouts but giving the tools people need. It’s teaching people to fish,” as the saying goes.

By raising the stakes this year, Dmitri and his team of pirates have raised the fundraising bar. Last year surpassing their target of $25,000 was a huge achievement—the Pirates ended up blowing that out of the water, raising $55,000 for The Smith Family. This year they’re closing in on $100,000 and are on track to raise the most funds by any team in the event’s 23 year history.

Dmitri’s clearly rapt with these results. So how’s he feeling about Sunday then? “Sunday scares the hell out of me” he says. “I won’t be the least bit ready. But neither are the kids who turn up to school from disadvantaged backgrounds; so for them I will make this happen.”

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