More than 400 people pounded the pavement earlier this month, raising money to build a facility for local athletes with disabilities.
As part of its commitment to supporting young people in the Illawarra, the team behind the Great Illawarra Walk committed to raising funds to build a purpose-fit gym for athletes with disabilities through the Illawarra Academy of Sport’s Athlete with a Disability (AWD) program.
The Great Illawarra Walk, now in its fifteenth year, was held on Saturday 12 March 2022, with 406 participants walking 40km between Shellharbour and Austinmer.
On Monday 28 March 2022, the Great Illawarra Walk organisers presented the IAS with a cheque for $53,339.40.
Great Illawarra Walk founder, Chris Lovatt, said it was incredible to see the Illawarra community rally together once again.
“We have committed to funding this new facility that will benefit athletes with disabilities for years to come, and it was so fantastic to see the Illawarra community get behind our event,” he said.
“We pride ourselves on donating every cent that is raised through the Great Illawarra Walk. We have just signed a partnership agreement with South32, which ensures we are able to donate 100 per cent of what we raise, with no administrative costs or associated fees.”
Mr Lovatt said the support for the Academy will continue through to next year’s event.
“We had a big target to reach this year – $150,000 – and we didn’t quite get there, so we have committed to continue raising funds through next year’s event.”
Illawarra Academy of Sport Chief Executive Officer John Armstrong expressed his gratitude to the organisers for thinking of the Athletes with a Disability (AWD) in the Illawarra.
“The Great Illawarra Walk has enabled AWD athletes of the Illawarra a glimpse into something that will be nation leading and simply could not have been entertained had the organisers not looked to the Illawarra Academy of Sport to seek such support,” Mr Armstrong said.
“Whilst the intricacies of ensuring access, supervision, program development and capital for a gym that caters to all are complex, this funding completely changes the conversation around accessibility, integration and advanced development opportunities for all athletes of the Illawarra that are categorised with a Disability.
“It is a game-changer and potentially places the Illawarra sporting community in a leading position”.
South32 Vice President Operations Peter Baker said the organisation is thrilled to be on board with the Great Illawarra Walk as the major sponsor.
“South32 Illawarra Metallurgical Coal is proud to support the Great Illawarra Walk 2022 – it’s a great event that is helping to make a real difference in our community,” Mr Baker said.
“We look forward to the AWD gym being developed by the Illawarra Academy of Sport and watching local athletes really benefit from this fantastic initiative.”
For the first time in 2022, the Great Illawarra Walk welcomed Shellharbour City Mayor Chris Homer as its official ambassador.
“It was a real honour to be invited to support this worthy cause. I congratulate Chris Lovatt and his team on their ongoing passion and commitment. Once again, they have raised significant funds that will this year benefit the health and wellbeing of people with a disability,” Mayor Homer said.
The IAS Athlete with a Disability (AWD) Program is designed to support the developmental needs of the regions talented athletes with disabilities by providing industry leading high-performance sport development programs.
Since the IAS was founded in 1985 more than 115 para-athletes have been through the program, including Tokyo Paralympic Games silver medallist, Jasmine Greenwood. In 2021, IAS AWD scholarship holders won eight National medals and fifteen State medals in swimming and athletics events.
Since its inception in 2008 the Great Illawarra Walk has raised more than one million dollars for children in need throughout the Illawarra, including the Saving Chloe Saxby Foundation, Camp Quality and Wollongong Hospital’s Neonatal Unit. Thousands of people have participated in the annual event, which has grown from a small group of 120 walkers to a record year of more than 800 walkers in 2019.
The next Great Illawarra Walk will be held on Saturday 11 March 2023.