Oxfam Chief Executive Helen Szoke walks the talk at Oxfam Trailwalker Melbourne, while another participant pops the question

Media Releases, Oxfam Trailwalker article written on the 03 May 2014

Oxfam Chief Executive Dr Helen Szoke has done the hard yards with her grassroots supporters, crossing the finish line of the 100km Oxfam Trailwalker Melbourne endurance fundraising challenge today, hours after another participant was rewarded for her efforts with a diamond ring.

Dr Szoke’s team, Sole Mates crossed the line at Wesburn Park, Warburton with their arms held high at 1.11pm, recording a finishing time of 30 hours and 11 minutes.

Dr Szoke said the walk had given her a new appreciation for the lengths Oxfam supporters were willing to go to help fund the international aid agency’s work.

“It’s an endurance event and so it really requires a different level of guts and determination,” Dr Szoke said.

“I’m hurting, but I’m really glad I did it, and I would recommend it to anyone.”

Dr Szoke said she had promised to take on the challenge while being considered for the role of chief executive, and in line with Oxfam’s ethos, they had held her to account.

She had an “academic” understanding of the challenges and inspirational elements of the event when she set off from Jells Park, Wheelers Hill at 7am on Friday, but both sides had become very real on the trail.

Dr Szoke praised her team, step daughter Steph Rodwell and her husband Glenn Rodwell, and friend Lara Orford, who helped raise $6500 for the event.

“One of the most important things was team work,” she said. “It’s not a competition, so it’s about team work and getting each other across the line.”

“The other thing that struck me was the support of the cheery-faced volunteers and the communities we walked through. Right before you come in to Warburton there is a lady who lives on the corner who bakes cookies for the walkers and others had balloons in their trees saying ‘help fight poverty’. I think that’s really incredible.”

“I want to say a huge thank you to everyone on the walk, their supports crews, volunteers and staff.”

Dr Szoke’s arrival followed an exciting morning in Warburton, with a marriage proposal at the finish line at 1.48am setting the tone for the day.

Giselle Waanders had only a few moments to recover from her 18 hour, 48 minute slog before teammate Brett Herskope went down on bended knee and asked for her hand in marriage.

Ms Waanders, of Malvern East, said the finish line question-pop had been a spectacular moment.

“I was completely gobsmacked,” she said.

“I grabbed my face with both hands and said ‘yes, of course,’ and then I looked around and realised that all my special people were around me. It was an extremely memorable and surreal moment.”

Mr Herskope said fellow members of their team The Wandering Herskoyles, friends and family were in the know, and the imminent engagement gave them extra incentive to power down the trail.

“I just wanted to get to the finish as soon as we started,” Mr Herskope said.

“We were already so elated that we had finished Trailwalker and it is so overwhelming, so the engagement was the icing on the cake.”

The team raised over $2500, which was doubled by Oxfam Trailwalker sponsor Deloitte.

Of the 3200 participants who signed up for the event, over 400 have completed the challenge and participants and their supporters have raised almost $2.4 million of the 12th annual Oxfam Trailwalker Melbourne’s $3 million target.

Participants have until 10am Sunday to complete the challenge. Picture opportunities of the teams finishing their 100km journey are available at Wesburn Park, Warburton.

To arrange interviews with teams and Oxfam spokespeople or images of the event, please contact Oxfam Australia Media Coordinator Angus Hohenboken on 0428 367 318 or angush@oxfam.org.au.