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51-year-old Farmer skis 456kms for mental health awareness

Ski For Life – An epic challenge for mental health and suicide prevention

While most South Aussies spent the March long-weekend hibernating from a blistering Autumn heatwave, Port Lincoln Farmer, James Russell, pulled on a ski, grabbed hold of a rope and set off on a 456 kilometre skiing adventure along the Mighty Murray River.

Shedding light on mental health and suicide prevention, the 51-year-old likened every kilometre of the Ski For Life challenge to another day in life – “You might hit good water and have a smooth run and then turn the next corner and be hit with bumps, but when you get through that you get the good water back and have a decent run for a while.”

James was part of “The Salties” crew – a team of family and friends who made the pledge to ski from Murray Bridge to Renmark, joining hundreds of people from across Australia in a charity event that’s become so popular that registrations were exhausted eight minutes after opening.

Leading up to the event, teams fundraise in an effort to raise money and awareness for mental health and suicide prevention, before congregating on the Murray, where members from each team take turns to ensure there’s a skier behind the boat for all 456 kilometres of the heartfelt journey.

THE SALTIES ROAD CREW AND SKI TEAM – (not in order) Hayden McPharlane, Darren Davey, Andrew, Kerryne and Makenzie Dickie, Angela, Elke and James Russell.

The Salties raised an impressive $9269, thanks to generous donations, the auctioning of a custom-made skim board from Sandune Surf in Port Lincoln and a last minute sponsorship offer, with a catch.

“I put it out there for people to sponsor me per kilometre, and had someone offer to double their donation if I skiied over 400 kilometres myself,” James said.

And it wasn’t until he was into the first leg, that James made the decision to give the gruelling challenge a red hot crack….even after a false start first up!

“It was a bit of an incentive and it definitely helped push me a long. They all coughed up and by skiing the full distance, it raised an extra $1900 for the cause.”

Training for an endurance water-ski off of West Coast waters is not ideal. So with no real preparation, James relied on encouragement from his crew to get him through. He said choppy waters and waves were a challenge, and his legs “copped a hiding”, as he pushed through agonising pain in his glutes and drivers, until eventually the pain stopped hurting and “gave up trying to convince me to give up”.


Being able to ski alongside his 15-year-old daughter, Elke, was a major highlight for James, who credits the organisers for a brilliantly run event, with some “pretty good stories”, making it “quite an emotional trip”.

“Everyone knows someone who has been affected by mental illness or suicide,” he said. “It’s either becoming more prevalent, or it’s just more spoken about really, rather than people having to just soldier on through. And Farmers are fairly well up there on the list of suicides and suffering from mental health issues.”

After crossing the finish line, James called into Morgan on his way home for a quick ski, and plans to take a couple of days off before getting into some sheep work later in the week. He says he’s “pulled up better than expected”.




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