Bunbury’s Marg Rhodes and Pieter van Aalen ready for Via Francigena

Stuart McGuckinSouth Western Times
Pieter van Aalen and Marg Rhodes will swap the streets of Bunbury for the European countryside on their 100 Day Walk for Mental Health.Picture: Stuart McGuckin
Camera IconPieter van Aalen and Marg Rhodes will swap the streets of Bunbury for the European countryside on their 100 Day Walk for Mental Health.Picture: Stuart McGuckin

Bunbury’s Marg Rhodes and Pieter van Aalen are about to embark on a 2000km trek from England to Italy in an effort to raise awareness and funding for mental health.

It has been a trip five years in the making after the idea was planted in Mr van Aalen’s head after he read about the Via Francigena pilgrimage route one summer.

“I hadn’t heard about Via Francigena before then,” he said.

“That’s when I started to pester Marg about it saying that this is something we’ve got to do.”

While the couple’s vacations often included an active element, Ms Rhodes was initially hesitant to do the walk.

She said it was not until the idea of fundraising for mental health was raised that she became enthusiastic about planning the trek.

“Pieter was set on going, but for me I wanted a reason as I wouldn’t select to walk that far,” she said.

“I would much rather prefer to just run every day for a month – this will be more mentally challenging for me than physically.”

The couple have first-hand experience with challenging mental health conditions that have previously impacted their son.

“We got him in to see a really good psychiatrist at a Perth clinic,” Ms Rhodes said.

“They run a 12-week program which combined cognitive and dialectical behavioural therapies.

“He had been to see four or five psychiatrists before that, but we found he was so much better after that program.

“We felt like it would be great if we could raise some money in order to pilot a similar program in our region – that’s the big motivation for me.”

The couple have self-funded their trip and partnered with the Lishman Health Foundation in order to raise money.

Mr van Aalen said they had teamed up with the foundation in order to keep at arm’s length from the fundraising side of the walk.

“All the money will go to them and they were happy to take on that side of things,” he said.

Ms Rhodes said it was important to her that the foundation linked with universities to run trials which generated outcomes.

“This is not just a one-off thing, hopefully this is funding to support university-run trial programs,” she said.

“Lishman have been really supportive of that idea.”

The pair will fly out from Perth on Thursday and starting the walk on Saturday.

Visit to the Lishman Health Foundation website to donate.

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