lifestyle

One man's marathon fight against intimate terrorism.

Matt and me after run #1 of the Salomon Series at Studley Park. Credit: Supersport Images

By RACHEL BROWN

Don’t know about you, but most mornings I struggle just rolling out of bed. My mate, Matt Bell, however has been hauling his tired body up at 4am to complete his week’s requisite 100kms. He needs the miles in his legs for the 160km Alpine Challenge (think four marathons in one), with 7,500m elevation (the height of 25 Eureka towers). Crazy? Yes. But I couldn’t be prouder.

Matt’s undertaking this challenge to raise awareness about domestic violence. Hopefully it’ll also raise some funds for the White Ribbon foundation, a male-led campaign to help prevent violence against women. The statistics are grim. One in three Australian women will be physically assaulted by an intimate partner at some stage in their lives. One in five will be sexually assaulted. And every week, a woman is killed by her current or ex partner.

In a sentencing last month of a family violence perpetrator, a New South Wales judge remarked domestic violence is a form of “intimate terrorism”. That’s how many women describe it. Terrorised. On edge. Just waiting for him to snap. They’re in their house but never feel at home. As a journalist I’ve covered far too many domestic homicides. So I welcomed the chance to help.

By help, I mean keeping him company for paltry 20km runs, which Matt bookends with a 20km run to meet me, then back again. And repeat. Many of his mates pitch in too, joining him for training runs in Victoria’s beautiful Grampians, or Yarra Ranges. There’s no better metaphor for life than running. Just keep going. One foot in front of the other. A modest Matt will tell you, you’ll usually find him at the mid to back of a trail pack. But that’s also where you usually find the people with the biggest hearts, those who have to push that little bit harder, or who have a goal or cause that’s brought them there.

Matt with his daughter Mackenzie, after this year’s Surf Coast Century at Anglesea.

Growing up in Scotland, Matt says he witnessed his fair share of domestic violence in his local community. Having since moved to Australia, he’s seeing similarly distressing breakdowns in society through his work as a nurse, firstly at the Royal Women’s Hospital and now at the Epworth. Matt says ‘the standard we walk past is the standard we accept’, so he decided to stand up against it, well, run at it to be precise. He knows there’s going to be some very dark times on this 40+ hour run, which will push him to the limit physically and mentally. But he says it’s nothing compared to the pain and suffering thousands of women face every day.

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The 160km Alpine Challenge will be held on November 29. Also the date of the State Election. Many community legal and women’s advocacy groups hope political parties use this election campaign to make tackling domestic violence a top agenda item. But as Victoria decides its next government, Matt will be chipping away at some overwhelming mountains.

The course includes six major climbs; Spion Kopje, Mt Bogong, Mt Nelse, Mt Hotham, Mt Feathertop, and around Mt Jim. Runners are exposed to a merciless Alpine environment, ranging from sub-zero temperatures and snow, to 25 degrees, and everything in between.

They have to carry maps, rations, emergency equipment and a first aid kit in the event of hypothermia, hyperthermia, rolled ankles, snake bites and whatever else the unforgiving terrain throws at them. It’s not for the faint-hearted. And there’ll be a large contingent of loyal partners, ferrying crucial supplies and food rations to checkpoints, for their gutsy (albeit a little crazy) loved ones.

If you’d like to support Matt, without breaking a sweat that is, you can tweet encouragement to #whiteribbonbell. Or follow his Saturday 15th November Gala Dinner – featuring treats from a MasterChef, laughs with Australia’s top comedian and touching stories from White Ribbon ambassadors – at the event’s Facebook page. And if you’d like to support the White Ribbon foundation’s important work, you can contact it on 02 9045 8444, or [email protected]

And when those alpine mountains are conquered, Matt’s looking forward to more time with his two special women, his wife Suze and daughter Mackenzie…and sleep.

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