Famous faces filled Wangaratta Turf Club on Thursday as Daniher’s Drive 2017 kicked off with a bang.
More than 300 people, all proudly brandishing the ‘Fight MND’ logo, stopped for lunch en route to a sportsman’s night in Wagga.
Among them was Myrtleford’s Guy Rigoni, who was coached by Neale Daniher during his career with the Melbourne Football Club.
“As soon as we knew Neale was ill with Motor Neurone Disease, we wondered how we could help and when he started his drive, we were first up,” he said.
“I left Myrtleford at 18 and Neale was my surrogate dad for many years, so it’s tough – his mind’s as sharp as anything, but his body’s failing him.
“I remember speaking with him at the start and he didn’t want to do anything – it was such a shock – and then he decided he needed to, and everyone got on board.
“A couple of girls I met through the drive told me they didn’t know how to contribute until Neale came out publicly with his MND.
“Many participants now have been touched by the disease in some way – they lost family member, so it’s pretty special for them.”
Rigoni knows many families – including the Orchards of Benambra, recently featured in The Border Mail – who have been affected.
“We were very unlucky that some young boys who I knew through footy at Myrtleford lost their dads through MND as well,” he said.
“For a small town like Myrtleford to lose two parents through MND was horrible.
“I think country people really get behind our cause because most towns have been affected by it.
“We went through Euroa and there was a huge amount of people who would give a dollar – it goes a long way.”
Neale’s daughter Bec agreed there was huge support in country areas, a reason the drive went to different locations each year.
“We aim to have big community gatherings so it’s inclusive – you have to go to those towns because they do so much,” she said.
“This is getting bigger and bigger, we started with about 60 people and now we’re sitting at 350.”
The aim of this year’s drive is to raise $2 million.
The 100-car convoy will stop at the Osborne Football Club about 10am on Friday, and at Corowa RSL two hours later for a Demons V Dons bowls match.
Neale has been heartened by the messages of support he’s received so far.
“They are very supportive, they want to say hello and good luck, they also say ‘we’re with you’ and it’s very encouraging,” he said.
“We want to meet the locals, say thank you for their support and ask them to keep fighting with us.”