Two intrepid Deakin University students will kayak the Murray River in a gruelling 2000km charity challenge to raise money for a specialist school for Victoria's deaf and blind children.
First-year Exercise and Sports Science student Tom Dunn, 18, was inspired to tackle the herculean attempt in honour of his younger sister Cate, 14, who was born profoundly deaf.
Tom, who had never kayaked before pledging to paddle the length of the Murray from Albury NSW to its mouth in South Australia, will be joined by his University mate Tom (TJ) Johnston, 19, and a
Deakin first-year primary school teaching student.
The pair hope to kayak more than 55kms a day over 40 days and covering about 2,200kms from early November. The mates met this year as residents living at Deakin University's Waurn Ponds campus and are raising money for the Aurora School which provides early intervention strategies for young deaf and blind Victorians.
"We chose the Aurora School to benefit because the help and support they have given my family over the years has been unbelievable,'' Tom said.
"As a rurally located family with no prior personal knowledge or experience with deaf people, my parents were left with little idea on how to support Cate when she was born deaf.
"Thanks to the support of Aurora, all of my mum Jane's fears for the future of Cate – fears she would never talk, never gain friends, never marry or have kids, never get a steady job or never become an independent woman - were quickly proved wrong.''
Despite being a novice kayaker, Tom said he had also been motivated by inspirational former Hawks legend and Brownlow Medallist Shane Crawford whose 2010 run from Adelaide to Melbourne and 2013 cycle from Melbourne to Perth raised almost $2 million and highlighted breast cancer.
"I realised I couldn't raise money on my own and told my mates about it last year but none supported me and they all said I was mad.
"But I met TJ when we moved in to Waurn Ponds together and he said he'd jump on board with me.''
TJ is a former champion rower who reached national competition levels as a student at Gippsland Grammar.
He jumped at the chance to join Tom on the marathon river crossing.
"I thought it was a really good cause and it would be an amazing adventure and should be a lot of fun as well,'' TJ said.
Tom said his sister had driven his determination to try and help the Aurora School.
"I am totally inspired by my sister. She is witty and articulate. Mum used to be worried that she wouldn't be able to speak and to be honest, Cate talks too much.
"She is stubborn and cheeky. Mum was worried she wouldn't be able to hear anything and now she listens to anything and turns her hearing aids off if she doesn't want to listen to you.''
Cate may be fitted with a Cochlear implant later but for now, she is a successful student in Year 8 at Horsham College where she has proved that hearing loss is no disability.
"We have never wanted her to be normal – we want her to be extraordinary,'' Tom said.
Tom said Cate was a baby when Aurora staff attended the family home in Horsham to equip parents Pat and Jane Dunn with early intervention strategies to deal with their deaf daughter.
"It was a combination of learning how to communicate with her and to provide speech pathology.
"We are hoping that any money we raise for the Aurora will help the school forge the way for more kids like Cate.''
The pair has started serious training on the Barwon River in an orange racing kayak loaned to them for the challenge.
Deakin Student Life Executive Director John Devereaux praised the two students for their generous tenacity and said staff and students wish them well for the arduous but worthwhile challenge ahead of them. The young men plan to start their epic voyage in early November and hope people will support the good cause through their Facebook site - KMA – Kayaking the Murray for Aurora