On Monday Wiley and I had the great privilege of joining Liam Haven, Omen his Guide Dog and many other supporters for the very last leg of Liam’s Sydney to Canberra fundraising walk.
Liam lost most of his vision due to a bomb explosion during active service in Iraq 5 years ago. You can read more about Liam’s story and the walk by visiting http://onefootforward.gofundraise.com.au.
As well as raising funds and awareness for Soldier On, Liam is also donating 50% of monies raised to Guide Dogs Victoria.
I was so excited when a couple of weeks ago I received a call asking if I wanted to participate. Without knowing anymore details I immediately said yes.
I was picked up from home around 7:20 by one of the O&M’s from the Canberra Office. We had a little trouble finding the starting point, but after lots of driving around and asking for directions we found out where we needed to be.
I said a quick hello and made sure I was indeed at the right place. Then I took Wiley out of harness so he had a chance to say hi to Omen, Liam’s Guide Dog. Omen had lost part of his harness sometime during the walk so he did the last leg sans harness. I think Liam was using a cane or a sighted Guide.
The last section of the walk – that had started two week earlier in Sydney – was from Duntroon to the War memorial. I wasn’t sure of the route we would be taking but as we were walking as a group I knew Wiley and I wouldn’t get lost.
After a few photos were taken some bagpipes started to play (making me jump as I had no idea bagpipe players were around) and off we went.
Wiley was fantastic, even though it was crowded with lots of clapping, bagpipes and other distractions he remained really focused. True to his usual form he quickly weaved his way through the crowd until we were at the front. He always likes to be in the lead with a clear path of travel ahead.
The walk took us out the gates of ADFA, down Northcoote Drive to Russell Offices then along to Anzac Parade. It was a very challenging walk for Wiley and I, there were lots of changes of surfaces, distractions and horns tooting. This always made Wiley check behind him to make sure we were OK.
We walked along grass verges, on roads, pavements and gravel. Wiley never missed a beat, although at times when the path narrowed he had to accept walking behind people. I had a chat with several people as we walked along and I was given a number of lovely comments about how well Wiley was working.
When we got onto the gravel in the centre of Anzac parade, we stopped briefly then spread out behind a marching band that was going to play all the way up to the steps of the War Memorial. Once again, despite never working near a band before Wiley didn’t break stride, acting as if he walked accompanied by music everyday.
I had to really concentrate as the pace had slowed a little and I needed to make sure Wiley didn’t stride out ahead leaving the band and everyone else behind us. I kept gently putting my right elbow out to make sure I was in line with the person next to me. I gave him a few steady commands and then I think it clicked that we had to stick with the group.
There were lots of cameras and photographers so Wiley had to do some obstacle work to make sure we didn’t run into anyone. At one point before and after crossing a road we had to make our way through a narrow gap between two concrete bollards. I was told what was ahead of us and offered assistance which I appreciated but I said I trusted Wiley to get me thorough. His movements were so smooth as he found the spaces, I think he really impressed with his skill and focus.
Once we reached the War Memorial there were some stairs to climb and then we were finished. Wiley got lots of cuddles and some treats. I met up with a couple of the O&M’s and another local Guide Dog and handler team. We chatted for a while until we had to move aside in preparation for the arrival of the Governor General.
After the official meeting and greeting we headed over to a media station where Liam sat down with Omen by his side. I stood behind as I was giving a brief speech and also introducing Peter Lay the Chairman of Soldier On (such a great organisation you really need to check out their facebook page – https://www.facebook.com/SoldierOnAustralia?fref=ts )
There was then a couple of speeches including a lovely one by Liam. At this point Wiley decided to lie down and rest for a while.
Liam, with Omen lying by his side, played his guitar and sang a moving song he wrote as a tribute to one of his friends who was killed in battle. His friends parents were in attendance which made me feel even more emotional. We ended with a minutes silence to remember all those that have been killed or wounded in action. I was a little concerned Wiley might start snoring or sighing but thankfully he remained quiet as we all payed our respect.
Although it was a very tiring day I was delighted that I was i invited and able to attend. It was an honour meeting Liam, Omen and the support team. I haven’t felt as inspired in quite sometime. It is nice to be reminded that dreams can become goals which with strength and determination can be achieved.