News

Echuca firefighters step up to challenge

By Ivy Jensen

THERE might be 25 years between them, but Echuca firefighter Luke Waterson is hoping to keep up with teenage teammate Georgia O’Callaghan when it comes to climbing as many steps as possible.

The Echuca CFA volunteers are taking part in the One Million Steps For Mental Health — replacing the annual Melbourne Firefighter Stair Climb, which can’t be held this year due to COVID-19 restrictions.

Participants are instead challenged to collectively accumulate steps between September 10 to October 10 — World Mental Health Day.

So far, 17-year-old Georgia is leading the charge by more than 700 steps.

On Monday, Georgia had logged 885 steps, while Luke had clocked up 125.

“My target goal is 3046 steps because that’s the number of suicides in 2018, so each step symbolises the struggle of one person,” Georgia said.

“I need to do about 102 steps each day to achieve this, so I have been doing mine every couple of days at the football oval grandstand.”

As for District 20 CFA Commander Luke, he does them wherever he can.

“I am using my exercising time, which I usually spend riding my bike, climbing stairs in and around Echuca-Moama,” he said.

“I’m not as fit as I’d like to be, but I’d like to keep up with Georgia.”

District 20 CFA Commander Luke Waterson and firefighter Georgia O'Callaghan are taking part in the One Million Steps For Mental Health challenge to raise awareness and funds for Lifeline, Black Dog Institute and 000 Foundation. Photo: Cath Grey

Taking part in the Firefighter Stair Climb four or five times, Luke said his goal was never about a time, but raising money and awareness in the fight against depression, post-traumatic stress injury and suicide.

“For me, it’s about awareness and people understanding mental illness and removing that stigma and being able to have conversations when something is not right,” he said.

Which is the same reason Georgia became involved.

“It’s a great cause and is so relevant right now with COVID-19,” the Echuca College year 12 student said.

“Mental illness affects most people. If it’s not you personally, it’s someone you know.

“A lot of people are embarrassed about this and think they should feel ashamed, but that shouldn’t be the case. People should feel confident to say they’re struggling.

“Being a firefighter, there are a lot who struggle in the field. They feel like they need to be big tough blokes who just need to get on with it, but I think it’s important to recognise when you’re not feeling right and need a bit of help.”

Georgia and Luke have set a goal of $500 each, which will go towards Lifeline, the Black Dog Institute and 000 Foundation.

You can contribute to their fundraising by donating to firefighterclimb.org.au/climber/georgiaocallaghan/ and firefighterclimb.org.au/climber/lukewaterson/

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