Rotorua Weekender: Rowers put in hard yards for good cause

By Cherie Taylor

Christine Hobbs is taking to the water this weekend in memory of her late father, Ray Woolliams, and to raise awareness and much-needed funds for Alzheimers Rotorua.

Having suffered from Alzheimer's for 12 years, her dad died at the age of 82 last September - just four months after Christine rowed 141km down the Waikato River in a fundraiser she called Row For Ray, to raise money for Alzheimers New Zealand.

This weekend, she will be joined by 28 rowers from the Rotorua Rowing Club, passing through Lake Rotoiti, Lake Rotorua and the Whakatane River over the three days.

Christine says she hopes to raise awareness and $3500 for the local group, which supported her family during the decade her dad suffered, up until his death.

"I know Alzheimers Rotorua needs support to continue supporting the community... doing this is a reminder to people to stay fit and strong... I hope to expose and dispel the stigma surrounding this disease and try to get people supporting rather than avoiding their friends once Alzheimer's takes over."

Ray was a Rotorua District councillor for three terms, served as mayor from 1977 to 1979, and worked as a local deer farmer.

When he fell ill and began forgetting things, it was very frustrating for him, Christine says. Alzheimers Rotorua helped them cope.

"They are there 100 per cent for these families. I don't know how they do it. They have their own tragedy to deal with emotionally and yet they are there for so many others... it was very fortunate [dad] was able to stay at home. The world revolved and centred around him. He got angry and frustrated because he always had a really good memory... it makes it hard for the people supporting them."

On Saturday, the group will row from Hinehopu to Manupirua Hot Springs and the Ohau Channel before rowing back to Hinehopu. On Sunday, they head to Whakatane, where they will join the Whakatane Rowing Club on the water for the club's 100th jubilee celebrations.

Then on Monday, the group will row the 42km of Lake Rotorua.

Alzheimers Rotorua supports about 260 dementia sufferers, providing in-home assistance, support groups and education for families.

The agency's community co-ordinator, Lyn Soeters, says its client base is growing at a rapid rate, with nine people referred in the past two weeks. Many of them are in the younger age group - 55-65 years old.

The agency needs about $120,000 annually to provide services.

Living with someone with dementia can be extremely difficult for the entire family, Lyn says.

"It can be stressful, a constant struggle... Alzheimer's and dementia are unlike any other illness or disease.

"The end is fairly dismal. They are not going to get better...

"Our object is to keep people home with family for as long as possible, but they need support."

Alzheimer's is often called "the long goodbye", as the sufferer is gradually robbed of independence, and family or carers often suffer burnout, Lyn says.

Row For Ray will provide a financial boost for Alzheimers Rotorua so it can continue supporting these families, she says.

As the crew rows around the lakes this weekend, there will be people on land with buckets collecting money in support of the Rotorua service.

- Rotorua Daily Post

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