Ski for Life broadens horizons beyond River Murray

The organisation has a plan to get all of regional Australia talking about mental health.

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A charity with deep ties to the River Murray plans to expand from an annual event to reach people all over Australia.

Ski for Life brings hundreds of waterskiiers to Murray Bridge every year for the start of a 500-kilometre marathon up to the Riverland.

In the process, it also raises thousands of dollars for projects which support wellbeing and suicide prevention.

Now motivational speaker Ben Pettingill, pictured, and chair Jane Kellock want to go one step further, reaching out to people all over regional Australia and encouraging people – especially men – to talk about their mental health.

Their plan is to film a series of videos telling the stories of people’s personal struggles, explaining what support is available, and offering tips and tricks for mental resilience.

The idea will be funded by a $10,000 grant from the CommBank Staff Foundation, announced ahead of Mental Health Day, October 10.

“We want to normalise, and make people confident in talking about, mental health,” Mr Pettingill said.

“In a year like 2020, for most of us there has been an extra level of challenge we’ve ever had to deal with before, and there’s impacts that come along with that.

“We want to create a resource people can turn to for comfort, for relatability; for tools, tips and strategies around building positivity, building hope, finding the right support and not feeling helpless.”

He hoped dropping positive videos into people’s social media feeds would help them think proactively about their own wellbeing before they hit rock bottom, or would reach people who might not be interested in pamphlets or help lines.

The approach came from his own experience.

At the age of 16, Mr Pettingill awoke one day to find he had almost completely lost his eyesight.

He eventually learned that a rare genetic disorder was to blame.

“A lot of my hopes and dreams were crushed,” he said.

“I battled some significant doubts and thoughts along the way.

“But the outcome I’m at now has been a quite positive one.”

The video series will launch within a couple of months, so long as the Ski for Life team is able to get together and finish filming, with Mr Pettingill based in Melbourne and the rest of the team on this side of the border.

Meanwhile, registrations for the 2021 Ski for Life would usually have opened by now.

Ms Kellock said organisers had decided to hold off while state borders remained closed.

She anticipated that registrations would open in December, and hoped that the event would be able to go ahead with minimal interruption.

Photo: Ben Pettingill.

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