By Will Hunter
If determination and generosity had monetary value, then Jake Ward’s wealth would make Bill Gates resemble a pauper in comparison.
The inaugural captain of the Lyndhurst Lightning will run until his legs give out on the footy field, and won’t hesitate to put his body on the line for his teammates.
And it’s this selfless attitude and unwavering desire to help others in need that will see Ward tackle his greatest challenge later this year to benefit a cause close to his heart.
Throughout the month of November, the 31-year-old will complete a monumental 1500km run from the Gold Coast to the front door of his home in Cranbourne to raise vital funds for the National Breast Cancer Foundation.
Not content with simply engaging in popular and mainstream fundraising activities, Ward prefers to think on a much grander scale, and is prepared to push himself to his physical and emotional limits in the hope that he can make a positive impact on the lives of others.
“I’m not really one to do the flavour of the month,” Ward admitted.
“It’s really good that people do the ice bucket challenge and growing the moustache (for Movember) and everything. That’s fantastic, but I just wanted to do something different.
“I needed to find a ‘wow factor’ to really make an impact. And the only thing I could really think of was going on really big long-distance running.”
A simple concept it may seem, but the magnitude of this task cannot be overstated. To put his mammoth expedition into perspective, Ward will need to run 50kms (that’s a longer distance than an Olympic marathon) every day for 30 consecutive days to complete the journey on schedule.
And that’s only after completing mountains of paperwork, including risk assessment, public liability insurance and a street by street map of the entire 1500km route, as well as having to obtain permission from police in three different states to run along public roads.
This will seem like a challenge beyond the realms of possibility for most, but Ward is fully aware of the enormity of the trek he will undertake and the herculean effort that is required to finish it.
In September 2014, Ward set off from the steps of the Sydney Opera House, running a gruelling 1000kms back to Cranbourne in just 16 days.
This run gained widespread media attention, spreading awareness of his fight against breast cancer to eight different countries via social media, and helping raise over $40,000 for the NBCF.
The previous December he ran a 110km course through Melbourne’s south eastern suburbs in a time of 18 hours and 51 minutes, raising $8000 for the breast cancer charity.
These runs were inspired by the memories of his cousin Samantha and his aunty Vera, both of whom lost their brave battles with the insidious disease.
As a man instilled with strong family values, Ward was especially close with these two women.
And years after their passing, Ward still speaks glowingly of them.
“They were just two amazing people,” Ward said.
“(Samantha was) just always smiling, just a beautiful soul, always there for her family and had just given birth to her son before she passed away.
"(She was) just an absolute gem of a person. If you’d ever want to daughter to grow up like someone, you’d want it to be her.
“(And) my aunty Vera was just an amazing woman, always fun, always happy to see you… and made time for everyone.”
This personal tragedy has helped fuel his desire to assist others affected by the malignity of breast cancer.
“When you get a bit older and a bit more mature and you see your family hurting, you don’t wish that upon any other family,” Ward revealed.
“So if I can do something that softens the blow or make things just that bit better (for others) then it makes the runs a lot easier.”
The iron-willed Ward never doubted his ability to complete his ultra-long distance runs; instead, he draws strength from the memories of his loved ones and the potential difference he will make to people’s lives upon a successful completion. This is the same mindset he will bring to the run he is currently preparing to undertake.
“I never (thought) I don’t know if I’ll be able to do it. I’m pretty strong mentally, but when you jump in a plane and fly to a place you know you are gonna run home from, you do tend to laugh a bit and think what have you got yourself into,” Ward admitted.
“But you just remember why your running and who you’re running for and the impact it’s going to make and you just tend to put one step in front of the other.”
Mentally, Ward is as prepared as he can be, but physically there is still some work to do.
The previous Sydney-to-Melbourne run took an enormous toll on him physically, and he is unsure if his body will ever fully recover.
“Before the Sydney run, my body was in pretty good shape. Just, you know, a couple of niggles. And then I got injured during the run, and powered through another 800kms,” Ward revealed.
“(It’s) uphill for 200kms, and you are just hitting pavement after pavement for 65km a day, yeah the whole body was just breaking down.
“It took me a while to get back into running (after that). I sometimes still have pain.”
Not only did Ward have to contend with strained hamstrings and shot knees for the majority of the trip, but the strain on his leg muscles pulled his hips out of alignment and his ankles swelled up so badly he had to remove the shoelaces from his shoes just to fit them on his feet.
These injuries would have forced many to pull the pin, but Ward’s perseverance serves as a perfect example of the mental fortitude he possesses.
Thankfully, Ward has learned many lessons from his previous experience, and will be much better prepared to tackle the journey from the sunshine state later this year, a distance some 500km longer than the run he had previously attempted.
Instead of completing the arduous journey in just runners, shorts and compression garments as he did last time, Ward has invested in protective knee braces and supportive strapping tape to “hold things in place and comfort all the blows”.
Additionally, he will better condition his body this time round with a varied training regimen that places a larger emphasis stretching, flexibility and recovery in the lead up to the commencement of the run on November 1st.
Football will also play a major role in maintaining his fitness through the cold winter months.
Lyndhurst coach Paddy Cooke was effusive in his appraisal of his skipper’s character. He said the footy club was incredibly proud of Ward and his fundraising campaign, and described him as a wonderful leader and an inspiration to the entire club.
“He is an inspiration, but he doesn’t talk about what he’s done too much, he just carries about his business,” Cooke said.
“It’s impressive, it really is, and it just shows his sheer determination to (make a difference).
“(He’s also) just genuinely a really good person. Great for the young kids to be around and what he is doing for the community is just sensational.
“Everybody looks up to him. He’s a great person doing great things for the community and he’s fantastic around our footy club."
The Lyndhurst Football Netball Club aims to host a Breast Cancer Awareness Day on July 30th, coinciding with the Lightning’s home clash against Carrum Patterson Lakes at Marriott Waters Reserve.
The plans are still in their infancy, but it is hoped they can raise enough money to help support Ward on his charity run.
And Ward is grateful for all of the assistance he has received from his new club.
“From the president down to junior mothers, now that they are all aware of it, are all showing their support,” he said.
“The playing group’s been great. A few blokes have already donated and it’s not ‘til November.
“I am pretty lucky as the club are really supportive in helping making this a success.”
Pleasingly, several of Ward’s former Dandenong teammates are also getting behind him.
The heroic cancer crusader hopes to build upon the success of his previous runs, further extoling the virtues of the NBCF and providing a substantial financial contributing to aid the community-funded organisation’s research into the prevention and cure of breast cancer.
And he has a monetary target in mind he aims to reach.
“I’d like to raise exactly $51,725.95. I got that total because it makes $100,000 (raised) over three runs, which I think is pretty cool considering I am just an ordinary bloke from Cranbourne,” Ward said.
“(But ultimately) I want to achieve the success of raising awareness and much needed funds for the National Breast Cancer Foundation… so hopefully that leads to a cure for cancer.”
Follow Jake’s journey via his Facebook page: www.facebook.com/jakeward1500kms
Donations can be made here: www.everydayhero.com.au/jakewardgc