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Canberra teen to walk 1,000 miles for a good cause

Walking 1,000 miles in 1,000 hours sounds like a heroic task, but for 18-year-old Joseph Gardiner, it’ll be a walk around the block.

Following the path his grandmother set out before him, Mr Gardiner will be starting the clock and walking around Lennox Gardens from 12 November until 24 December aiming to raise $200,000 for Red Nose.

As the leading authority on safe sleep, safe pregnancy advice and bereavement support for anyone affected by the death of a baby or a child, Red Nose is a charity close to the hearts of many Australians.

In the late 1960s, Mr Gardiners’ grandmother, Val Moran, lost her second child, Suzanne, to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).  

Mr Gardiner said Val and her husband Pete were living in a caravan in Sydney after migrating to Australia as Ten Pound Poms.

“They were outside the caravan at one point, in the garden and the baby was asleep inside. When they went back inside the baby had passed,” Mr Gardiner said.

“They were devastated with themselves, they thought that their smoking had killed the baby because at the time, smoking was a normal thing … of course, no one was there to tell them otherwise.

“They spent a long time with this level of guilt, thinking that they’d killed their daughter.”

In 2007 at the age of 65, Val decided to walk 1,000 miles in 1,000 hours to raise awareness and funding for SIDS.

Her inspiration was her ancestor, the first woman to walk a Barclay March.

“She got the idea from her ancestor so my Great, Great, Great Aunt, Emma Sharp in 1894,” said Mr Gardiner.

“Emma walked in England and she had to walk with a gun because at the time they thought women can’t do big feats of strength.”

Mr Gardiner was five years old when Val completed her walk, cheering her on from the sidelines as she finished the final 500 hours in a wheelchair.

“Six weeks before she started, her husband died in a gliding crash,” he said.

“She still did the march and then half-way through she suffered a double stress fracture in her hip, and she ended up doing the rest of it in a wheelchair.”

Mr Gardiner said he will be walking on Val’s behalf this year because “she’d want to do it, but she can’t” after suffering a brain aneurysm in 2020.

“Deep down I know that she wants answers that I don’t think she’ll ever get but this will get everyone close to the answer they deserve.

“I think that’s the scary thing about what Red Nose does, if you mention SIDS or stillborns or miscarriages, pretty much you know someone who knows someone, or you’ve had one yourself,” Mr Gardiner said.

“It’s such a common thing and it’s tragic.”

According to Red Nose, in 2018 there were approximately 2,850 perinatal deaths in Australia, including 737 neonatal deaths and 2,118 stillbirths.

There were also 93 deaths classified as sudden unexpected death in infancy (SUDI), including fatal sleeping accidents.

While the rate of SUDI has decreased by 85% in 29 years, Mr Gardiner feels there is still a stigma associated with SIDS.

“There’s this horrible stigma about it. I mean death itself is unpleasant, but babies and infants are even worse because they’re so reliant on other people.

“I think that if I can open that conversation up, then I am achieving what I’m looking to achieve.”

Walking 1,000 miles in Val’s shoes

After planning for two years, Mr Gardiner has set out to beat the funds Val raised in 2007 by $50,000.

“My rough idea is 500 hours of walking, 500 hours of resting,” he said.

“I’ll be doing that in 2.5-Kilometre increments so four laps … in the first three days my grandma did 50 kilometres straight without stopping.”

Mr Gardiner has always been close with his grandmother, who he affectionately calls ‘Naini’, inspired by her work with the community throughout the years.

“She’s cooked with a bunch of charities to help homeless people and all that,” he said.

“She said something really interesting to me the other day. She said ‘I’ve got to believe in reincarnation because I’ve got to come back, not so I can be human again, but if I am, I want to have an education. I want to help people in a way that I wasn’t able to do in this life’. That really stuck with me.”

To meet his grandmother’s challenge, Mr Gardiner has been training at the gym and working with the Canberra Walking Association to prepare.

“You wouldn’t believe it but there’s a lot of technique that goes into walking!” he said.

While he still has seven months before the big event, Mr Gardiner hopes completing the walk will help start conversations about SIDS in Canberra.

“I think the community aspect is vital to the event because no one deserves to be alone,” he said.

“I know if I had personally experienced it, I would want to have support.”

To donate to the 1,000 Mile Walk, click here.

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