Berrick Wilson founded Chain Reaction in 2007 after his own family was touched by tough experience. It underlined how important it is for all sick children to have access to medical resources. Here, they talk to ORM about their latest challenge.
One thousand kilometres long. Seven days. Two wheels. One goal: “To touch and to feel.” The words that pushed self-proclaimed non-cyclist, Tim Keenan across country from Sydney to Brisbane.
“We are not a club. We are the Chain Reaction Riders. We cycle to raise money for sick children,” explains Tim, father of three and director of KM Sales and Marketing on the Gold Coast. “I love being a part of this because I know the outcomes are tangible, I can see and touch it, a humidicrib or an ambulance that helps save young lives.”
Tim’s colleague, Berrick Wilson founded Chain Reaction in 2007, after his two-day-old daughter, Milla suffered a life-threatening brain haemorrhage.
“She was rushed from her hospital to the Monash Medical Centre,” Tim says, “Berrick knew then that somehow they needed to make sure all sick children have access to these scarce and highly demanded medical resources.”
Upon Milla’s full recovery, Chain Reaction created the Ultimate Corporate Bike Challenge. Designed to raise corporate dollars for children’s charities, riders are selected to utilize their business connections for donations and test themselves, mind, body and soul on a 1000km cycling journey. Chain Reaction encourages corporations to fulfill their social responsibilities, and to date has raised a staggering $21,181,903 for charities across Australia.
The 2017 Queensland riders have been raising money for the Ronald McDonald House, to assist their mission of providing care and accommodation for ill children and their families who seek medical care far from home. And for the AEIOU Foundation, who focuses on early intervention for children with autism, assisting their development of essential life skills. Chairman of AEIOU, Dr James Morton also participated as one of the riders this year.
After years of “ducking and weaving the lycra scene” Tim finally submitted to what would become the ride of his life. But first, the training.
“The last time I was on a bike I was 10-years-old and it was a BMX!”
Tim borrowed a bike for two months before thinking, “OK, I can get through this.” Tim’s wife, Matilda laughs, “I think deep down, he didn’t really know what he was getting himself into.”
But with professional coaching Tim quickly learnt the rules. With training itineraries for two-six hour rides, three-four times a week, “It started to get real. Eventually I bought a bike. Eventually I started hard-core training. Eventually, I even got into lycra.”
The riders got to know each other on a personal level during training.
“It’s not like networking, it’s not a ‘LinkedIn moment,” says Tim. “You’re really getting to understand each other. When you’ve been cycling for four hours in 35 degrees, you wanna’ get off and just throw your bike away. But whole time, these people are supporting you, doing it together makes it enjoyable.”
Weekend rides stretched 140kms and were physically exhausting. But kids aged three, six and eight, “need attention!”
“I’d arrive home to, ‘Dad, Let’s kick the football, Dad let’s go swimming!’ and I’d be looking for the couch.”
“It was very demanding of his time and energy,” Matilda agrees, “One afternoon we had guests and he was about to fall asleep at the table!”
Tim adds, “All the riders have to go through this.” Personally it’s a huge financial commitment, an investment of time and a sacrifice family and work must also bear. “We knew it was for a good cause,” says Matilda, “so we went with it.”
Five weeks prior to the big event, riders participated in a training camp. Opening day: 11.5 hour ride, Brisbane to Warrick, heat, rain, hills.
“In cycling it’s easy to talk about the kilometres, but it’s the climbing that makes it hard, really hard for newbies like me.
“And that’s the way the rides are designed. It’s not a ride in the park, it’s a challenge, and we put that in perspective with what other people are going through everyday, infants with autism, kids who require the Ronald McDonald House, we’re meant to understand pain.
“Tim was dedicated to the fundraising, the fitness, diet, early mornings,” Matilda saw “his whole mindset change.”
Then on April 29, after months of intense training and preparations, it was time to test if the sacrifice was worthy.
Sydney’s Hawkesbury River was certainly a worthy starting point as the 49 riders pushed off on day one, their support crew of 20 and the glistening river ever encouraging beside them. But the sunshine and 93km “warm up” was a gentle introduction to the increasingly difficult days ahead.
Once the riders reached the Hunter Valley, the nightly ritual of dinner with jersey presentations was initiated. Dr. James Morton was the first recipient of the Polka Dot jersey, crowning him “King of the Mountains.”
James and his wife, Louise established AEIOU Foundation after the only program supporting their son’s autism was shut down.
“Chain Reaction has enabled us to provide more children and families access to our life-changing program. Through the purchase of specific playground equipment at our Camira centre, construction of a purpose-built centre on the Gold Coast and now another centre in Logan, we can assist 40 families per year.”
As the King of the Mountains explains how Chain Reaction helps young kids with autism conquer their own mountains, the riders feel charged for whatever hills they’ll meet tomorrow.
After rendezvous with potholes and the Pacific Highway, by day two the riders have endured the steep climb up Lakes Way and arrived in Foster. Chasing north with a wayward compass they set through the winding roads, past cattle paddocks and grazing dairy cows, “I saw a lot of cows on these country roads!” Tim laughs.
By the 600km mark muscles are aching, but thanks to a comprehensive training program, the group was holding up well.
“We’ve been training to set the pace of the whole peloton. It’s not just speed and fitness but technique and safety too. The experienced Chain Reaction cyclists are the back bone of the movement, they love it and we couldn’t do it without them.”
World-class cyclist, Ashley Huchinson is one such veteran. Recently Ashley and his wife had a baby boy, Charlie, unfortunately Charlie was very ill. Some of the life saving medical equipment provided to Australian children in desperate need has been donated through Ashley’s fundraising contributions over the past eight years. Now, emergency equipment stamped with the Chain Reaction logo, arrived to save his own son.
It’s a reminder that donations help children in our local communities. We must not pretend suffering only exists in someone else’s world.
“It broke my heart and just made me want to raise more money.” These tangible outcomes are a great motivation for Tim and the riders to push on, “That’s why we’re doing all this, we can see the difference Chain Reaction makes, we can touch it, we can feel it.”
Tim expresses his deep gratitude for the volunteers involved in Chain Reaction and the charities they support. Everyone involved is volunteering his or her own time and resources.
Some wash rider’s sweaty lycra ready for the next day, some drive support vehicles, some supply water bottles and muesli bars, some organise accommodation. Photographer, Veeral Patel and videographer, Ryan Sheridan have donated their professional services too. Volunteers work year round to ensure these events run smoothly and raise money.
“I’m extremely grateful for people like Paul Wilson, who has donated his time to run the water truck. Paul also drives the minibus from the hospital to the Ronald McDonald House, it might be at 3:00am. He doesn’t have to do that, but he volunteers to. The volunteers behind the big charity names are working selflessly for others.”
“At about day three or four you’re saying, ‘this is not good, this is not good!’ You certainly get a sore bum! But after 10 minutes you settle in, you’re in the zone. The whole experience is like being inside a bubble, the bubble of get to Brisbane any way you can!”
Day four has been on their minds throughout the entire training. 187kms of roads pinched into hills, the riders will climb Mt Dorrigo and her elevation of 3000m.
The peloton disperses and they ascend at their own pace. “You’re nervous and worried enough about the hills, you don’t need the extra pressure of speed,” said Tim. Legs burn across the unrelenting gradient but in true Chain Reaction spirit, some of the fittest cyclists offer a helping push along to those struggling. “There’s the hard times and the grit your teeth times, and there’s times where you have to go up a serious mountain and you do it together.”
They tackled the climb with camaraderie to briefly recover on top together. Before riding off again, Tim takes a moment to realise his Mt Dorrigo feat. Engulfed by panoramas, “The views of the rolling hills were incredible. We’ll probably never go on these back roads again,” he laments. “These old country roads are good for you, to be out of the cities, out there on a bike, with good people, with fresh air.”
It was the most challenging day, but upon reflection the most enjoyable. “We roll into Byron Bay and everyone can feel it, we’ve broken the back of this thing!”
Finally, recognizable signs hint at home. But the capricious weather of days five and six made roads indiscernible and bodies soaked with rain, then dry again, then wet again. But nothing could dampen their spirits as their fundraising reached the million-dollar mark. It was a proud moment for the team hitting their target and crossing the boarder.
“It’s a great feeling to come through the Goldy, The Star Gold Coast and Hickey Lawyers are some of the major sponsors. What they have given back to the community of the Gold Coast is invaluable. And…” Tim adds as if he’s still excited, “We know there’s only one day to go.”
With his incredible efforts tallying $46,000 Tim “Krackers” Keenan received the coveted yellow jersey as one of the top fundraisers. Unlike Tour de France, here yellow stands for, “Best leader of fundraising, of the team and of Chain Reaction values.”
The final day, the final ride. But not before friendly races on the velodrome and a steep climb up Mt Cotton could they enjoy the homestretch.
From Chandler to the city lanes were closed off to traffic and the wind blew at their backs. Escorted by police the peloton rode proudly through the Brisbane Story Bridge to their much-deserved finish line.
Friends and family greeted them with banners and hugs and cheers, “Just the thought of seeing my family was seriously great!” smiles Tim.
“It was amazing!” Matilda echoes, “To see all their faces, all of riders, they were so happy to achieve their goal and see their families. We are so proud, the kids were so proud, everyone was so proud of them!”
The revelries continued as they rode to All Hallows School for a photo opportunity of the Story Bridge. Surprise! 1,500 girls were waiting to sing for them.
“They were singing their lungs out, dancing and bopping and going ballistic.” The rider’s elation was matched by the girl’s reception. “And that was the beauty of coming back into Brisbane, the experience of the big crowd was like a homecoming.”
Tim and his peloton sparred the bitumen with nothing but an angular seat and a pair of narrow wheels. Their epic odyssey offers us a reminder, in a simple chain reaction, those who give, also receive.
“Ultimately it’s about raising money. I’m able to sit here and say I put my all into a ride from Sydney to Brisbane! It’s a pretty good feeling that can’t be taken away. I was on a natural high for a week after.”
Matilda witnessed Tim’s transformation along his journey, “I have never seen him take on something like this. Something else came out in him, an inner satisfaction. With the exception of my family,” Tim reflects with both pride and humility, “Chain Reaction has easily pinnacled all of my other achievements.”
Over seven days, Tim and his fellow riders dashed and panted past a medley of landscapes, forests, waterfalls, lakes, rivers and seas, rolling hills and highways. Greeted along the way by barking dogs, hungry cows and supportive toots from patient cars. Through rural Australia they tamed 1000kms of serpentine paths.
“To touch and feel,” from bridge to bridge, they made giving their mission, raising $1,115,203 and counting.
Chain Reaction requires support in their mission to provide happiness, health or relief for a child in crisis. To donate to Tim’s team visit
For more information or to make a direct donation to the Ronald McDonald House and AEIOU Foundations, please visit www.rmhc.or.au and www.aeiou.org.au