Dunga provides road to recovery for Bay resident
THE saying life is about the journey not the destination couldn't be truer for the Dunga Derby's new events coordinator.
Andrew Coppens had a great life and a successful career as a senior financial Adviser for the Westpac Bank, until 2014 when some pain appeared in his left foot.
The pain worsened over time leaving him with almost no cartilage and bone on bone.
"Every night I'd go to sleep and wake up and the bones had started to knit but then I'd walk on it and it would break," Mr Coppens said.
"I had no other choice and they (surgeons) fused it.
After several surgeries, in pain, depressed and unable to work, Mr Coppens said he lost his way in life.
"I spent a lot of time on crutches in those five years and mobility scooter because I just couldn't walk. It was a constant health battle.
"I lost five years in a pain coma and cycle of drugs and I just couldn't engage with the world."
But one unique friendship turned his life around.
Mr Coppens wife and his rock, Natalie - a nurse - had helped care for a young Hervey Bay boy named Cooper Christensen who was just six years old when he lost his battle with brain cancer in 2015.
Cooper later become the face of Rally for a Cause, a local charity created by friends and family of his parents Michael and Amanda, to help other local families going through extraordinarily tough times.
The Dunga Derby is now the biggest annual fundraiser for Rally for a Cause.
Since its inception five years ago, the teams have raised over $1 million and helped close to 100 families.
Through the friendship with his wife, Mr Coppens met Michael in 2019 and a challenge was set.
"Michael set me a challenge that year to say this is what we do for Rally for a Cause, why don't you come along.
"I had just got approval from the Therapeutic Goods Administration to start on cannabis oil, which took about five months, and my pain has gone from an eight out of 10, to a two.
"There's no THC, (the stuff that makes you high) in it so you can drive.
"I got off all the prescription medication and I started on that (cannabis oil) in February last year, and I set the challenge that I was going to do the dunga."
Mr Coppens said completing the four-day rally gave him a new lease on life.
"It was a victory! I had crossed that bridge and it was like a rebirth.
"I was able to find myself, I found a purpose and interest and I was able to reconnect with the community.
"That was something I had missed in the five years. I had lost touch with the world and to reconnect again was awesome."
His next big triumph was being recently selected from 50 candidates to take on the newly created events coordinator role for the charity.
"The dunga family genuinely care about who you are, what your journey is and how they can help you.
"The events coordinator role is to make the event the biggest and the best it can be to raise the most amount of money possible to support those with life limiting medical conditions."
Mr Coppens encourages anyone who has their own journey to tackle, to take the leap of faith and get behind the wheel of a dunga.
"It's good for self-development, a bit of finding one's self and rediscovering.
"Jump on board."
This year's Dunga Derby will be held from Thursday, July 30 to Sunday, August 2.