People and Places
27/02/2019
Mates making a difference By Liz Rogers

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You wouldn’t read about it. Two friends since primary school. Local lads about town applying to drive on dirt roads and raise funds for Cancer Council in the Shitbox Rally and not being accepted. Applying again the next year and not being accepted. Applying the third and fourth time . . . you get the drill. 

You’ve got to give these two long-term mates an ‘A’ for effort because on the fifth time — finally — they’re in! So why so hard to become part of a daring adventure packed with teams of two driving cars worth $1000 across some of Australia’s most challenging roads? Because as Shitbox Rally founder James Freeman puts it: “You’re not the only one with cancer in the family.” James lost both his parents to cancer within 12 months. Everyone has some cancer story to tell. 

Here’s a snapshot of Jonathan ‘JP’ Pritchard and Simon Vercoe’s journey and the joy they are experiencing being part of this amazing community fundraiser that has raised $16,646,368 for Cancer Council overall.  

JP, from Jetty Road Brewery, lost both his parents to cancer. His beloved mum passed away 22 years ago and, as we agree while nodding over caffeine and conversation, it’s something you never get over. You learn to adjust. He explains: “My mum, Rita, passed away in my arms. She was in her late 50s. I still miss her every day and long to hear her voice. I suppose she was one of the lucky ones because she went quickly, whereas Dad (John) had a more drawn-out battle. I reckon he was broken-hearted. Simon’s dad, Peter, was robbed. He was young and died suddenly from lung cancer. His mum, Cheryl, now has pancreatic cancer and is fighting it.” 

Horse trainer and seller of equine accessories Simon continues: “Mum had this huge operation about four years ago called the Whipple procedure, which has given her some more time, but Dad went quickly. I was watching the Discovery Channel, which was covering Shitbox Rally, about six years ago and called JP and said ‘We’ve got to do this’, but it’s taken a while to get there. We did a car rally together years ago in a sports car and really enjoyed the team experience. It will be fun being out in the middle of nowhere and meeting people with similar stories.”

Shitbox Rally is not a race. It is eight days of driving cars that aren’t worth the petrol pumped through their engines from Melbourne to Townsville via Birdsville. There are food villages, triage for cars, friends made for life and plenty of stories exchanged. One thing’s for sure, each person has a different way of handling this pervasive disease. Simon talks: “Dad was in the wine industry. He was always larger than life and had a wake, which was held in Lygon St in Carlton while he was still alive. The day was full of family and friends and there were speeches made. He also went through a bucket list.” 

JP continues: “It’s different for everyone. Part of the participation in Shitbox Rally is you have to raise a minimum of $5000 dollars, but most teams raise well above that. Raising the money is the hard part. We bought our Nissan Bluebird straight away when we entered the first time and finally we get to drive it. It’s going to be epic. We can’t wait.” 

“At least the airconditioner works,” concludes Simon.

JP and Simon will be heading off on the journey of a lifetime for their parents and all cancer sufferers on October 19 and will be away until October 25. The rally target is set at $2million-plus this time round. If you’d like to get them to where they are going and donate to Cancer Council, log on to 2019spring.shitboxrally.com.au/jetty-road. 

Come on, help make a difference, and yes, you would read about it — in Mornington Peninsula Magazine

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