Would you walk 50km in one day? What would make you want to?
For primary school teacher, Andy Parthenopoulos and author, Rick Foster, the answer to the last question is simple: to raise awareness around kids’ mental health and wellbeing.
At 5:30am on November 15, 2022, Andy and Rick took their first steps in what would be a 10.5 hour walk.
They set up this fundraiser as part of Smiling Mind’s Walk for Kids’ Mental Health event, which has been running through November to raise money and awareness for mental illness prevention in young Australians. Rick and Andy have raised an incredible $2451 to date through the fundraiser.
Rick and Andy both feel connected to Smiling Mind’s mission through their personal and professional experiences. The duo run primary school incursions called “Why Worry Wally”, where they educate kids about worries and how to manage them.
Rick, who wrote the children’s book ‘Why Worry Wally’, says he approached Andy with the idea of running incursions to go beyond the page and help kids talk about and manage worries.
The idea was embraced by Andy who runs, EdMentor, an organisation which aims to promote student wellbeing by teaching kids skills to better manage their emotional responses to life’s challenges.
Rick says, “The main message we want to project through the incursions is that worries are normal. Some of them are small, but some can escalate and become bigger and bigger. The important thing is to always feel like you can talk about them.”
On November 15, they were delivering an incursion to Mordialloc Beach Primary School. Rick and Andy, starting off from different directions set off on a 25km walk to the school… and a 25km walk back to Andy's house.
The school community embraced the fundraiser, setting up a gold coin donation and a free-dress day. “The whole school got around it,” Rick says.
So when Andy woke up, bleary eyed, to a 4:30am alarm on November 15th he pushed through the tiredness and got out the door.
‘Within about 10 minute I stepped in a puddle, and then I had wet socks,” Andy laughs “I thought, ‘On no, here we go.’” That thought proved to be prophetic.
“Rick and I were communicating through text, and we were looking at the BOM and could see storm clouds rolling in,” Andy says. “Sometimes they’d hit me and sometimes they’d hit Rick, but we both got heavily rained on at times.”
Rick says, “I texted Andy this amazing picture of a rainbow that just happened while I was walking. I thought, ‘Well that’s got to say something about how the day’s going to be.’ And then about five minutes later I’m getting bucketed with rain,” he laughs.
Walking through rain, hail, wind and rainbows “certainly did symbolise a lot of things you have to go through in life”, Rick says.
When the pair finally arrived at Mordialloc Beach Primary School, they were greeted with a guard of honour.
Andy says, “It was pretty overwhelming in a positive way. I’ve seen kids act that way when celebrities come to a school. So when that was happening for us, I was like, ‘Wow, we’re just regular guys here.’ But it was really nice to think that they valued what we did and saw it as a big deal."
"It was really nice to think that [the kids] valued what we did and saw it as a big deal."
”It just shows that we’re all doing this together. Community members and kids themselves, we’re all helping each other be more mindful and aware of our mental health. And unfortunately it’s not there yet in so many places, even though it’s a priority to do those things,” Andy says.
Despite the challenges of their 50 km walk, Andy and Rick both say they felt the experience was truly rewarding.
Rick says, “It’s brilliant to be able to help Smiling Mind raise money to keep helping kids through preventative mental health programs.
“In running the ‘Why Worry Wally’ incursions, I’ve been really amazed at how aware the kids are [of their mental health] from a really young age. For me it just highlights there is a real need to be able to talk about it,” Rick says.
Andy agrees that raising community awareness around mental fitness for kids has never been so important. “We need to support them a lot more in overcoming their worries before they get a chance to fester and hold them back,” he says.
“You see it in kids who are anxious. They’re so consumed with the anxiety that they’re not really thinking about their learning, and then it becomes a negative spiral. Because when you’re not able to learn and you’re just kind of languishing, reflecting on that makes you feel worse.
“That’s why mental fitness is so important for young people. So they don’t fall into those traps as they start becoming more independent,” Andy says.
On Thursday 24th November, Smiling Mind are running a competition to raise $24 in 24 hours for kids’ mental fitness.
This competition is part of the Walk for Kids’ Mental Health event, and participants will be in the running to win special book packs from Smiling Mind and Rick Foster.
Get involved today and join the mission to raise money for kids' mental health in Australia.