BIG RED suc­cess

A fa­ther and son have put in a marathon – and mu­si­cal – ef­fort to raise funds for re­search

Diabetic Living - - Diabetes Hero -

“We never started out to cre­ate what’s be­come a mas­sive mu­sic fes­ti­val,” says Greg Dono­van, orig­i­na­tor of Birdsville’s Big Red Bash, which has helped put more than $1.1 mil­lion into type 1 di­a­betes re­search over six years. “But it’s prob­a­bly the big­gest event in out­back Aus­tralia now.”

Prior to that, his son Steve get­ting type 1 in 2008 hadn’t been part of any­one’s plan, ei­ther. “He was just about to turn 15,” says Greg. “He was get­ting skinny and go­ing to the toi­let a lot, and we were won­der­ing what was go­ing on and Googling the symp­toms. He had the thirst, al­ways drink­ing, lethar­gic, no en­ergy. We took him to a doc­tor who did the blood glu­cose and said ‘he’s 24’ and sent him to hos­pi­tal.”

As Steve ad­justed to daily in­sulin doses, carb count­ing and blood-glu­cose mon­i­tor­ing, Greg be­gan won­der­ing what he could do to help find im­proved treat­ments or even a cure.

A keen long-dis­tance run­ner, his first thoughts ran to ex­treme sports. Six years be­fore, he’d run the New York Marathon to ben­e­fit the chil­dren of 176 work col­leagues trag­i­cally killed in the 9/11 ter­ror­ist at­tack on the

Twin Tow­ers, where his em­ployer (in­sur­ance firm Aon) was head­quar­tered.

“I’d seen the power of en­durance chal­lenges as a cat­a­lyst for rais­ing funds. I thought, ‘how can I do that in terms of di­a­betes?’” says Greg. “So, with my el­dest son, I formed a team of five and ran the 4 Deserts Race Se­ries [250km runs in the Ata­cama, Gobi, Sa­hara and Antarc­tic deserts] in an eight-month pe­riod. That one-off fundrais­ing raised $100,000, but I wanted some­thing more sus­tain­able and long-term to keep rais­ing money. So I de­cided to start up a desert race in Aus­tralia, with all funds go­ing to the Ju­ve­nile Di­a­betes Re­search Foun­da­tion.”

Draw­ing on his cor­po­rate­world busi­ness man­age­ment skills, and learn­ing on the fly through sheer de­ter­mi­na­tion, Greg launched the Big Red Run in 2013, which be­came one of the JDRF’s big­gest com­mu­nity-led fundrais­ers. The name refers to a spec­tac­u­lar 30m red sand dune on the edge of the Simp­son Desert, hand­ily about a marathon’s dis­tance from Birdsville in Queens­land’s re­mote south­west cor­ner.

Spon­sored en­trants in the event, which ended in 2018, com­pleted 250km over six days every June-July, run­ning be­tween Birdsville and the Big Red dune and into the desert be­yond. Be­tween marathons, they en­joyed the ca­ma­raderie of camp­ing un­der the stars. The

I de­cided to start up a desert race in Aus­tralia

54 com­peti­tors in 2018 raised $140,000 for type 1 re­search, tak­ing the to­tal raised since the first run past $1.1 mil­lion.

The Big Red Bash sprang from the Run al­most by ac­ci­dent, when Greg treated the first year’s en­trants to a spe­cial show by Aus­tralian coun­try singer John Wil­liamson on top of the dune. The one-off gig proved so pop­u­lar the idea arose for a larger, sep­a­rate an­nual con­cert.

Six fes­ti­vals later, the three­day Bash – staged at the foot of Big Red with the Simp­son’s ochre palette as a glo­ri­ous back­drop – is es­tab­lished as the world’s most re­mote mu­sic fes­ti­val and a huge boon to the out­back econ­omy.

And it was vi­tal to Greg’s fundrais­ing as it helped to sub­sidise the Big Red Run.

Mov­ing for­ward, the Bash’s rapid growth – it’s on again in 2019 – has Greg think­ing it might need cap­ping, to help the towns cope with vis­i­tor num­bers.

Headlined by John Farn­ham, Hoodoo Gu­rus and Daryl Braith­waite, the 2018 Bash sold out, with 9000 at­ten­dees (in­clud­ing Big Red Run­ners who re­ceived tick­ets with race en­try), tripling the 2015 crowd.

The Bash is still very much a fam­ily af­fair. Steve, now 25, works as an event man­ager. His sis­ter Laura han­dles the mer­chan­dise and his brother Matt is the fes­ti­val’s Bilby mas­cot.

And fit­tingly, Greg took part in the 2018 Run with Steve to mark the 10th an­niver­sary of his di­ag­no­sis.

Greg Dono­van and sonSteve at the Big Red Bash inJuly 2018. The site of the Birdsville Big Red Bash mu­sic fes­ti­val nextto the Big Red sand dune.

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