Puka Up ride a chance for Justin Koschitzke to shine a light on suicide

HARD YARDS: Justin Koschitzke will join fellow former AFL players Wayne Schwass, Scott Cummings, Danny Frawley and  Paul Licuria on the Puka Up ride from Sydney to Melbourne later this month. The group will stop in Albury on March 20.
HARD YARDS: Justin Koschitzke will join fellow former AFL players Wayne Schwass, Scott Cummings, Danny Frawley and Paul Licuria on the Puka Up ride from Sydney to Melbourne later this month. The group will stop in Albury on March 20.

WHEN a friend of Justin Koschitzke’s took their life, the former Saint had a hard time reconciling with his old mate’s actions.

He was angry, he had questions – why did they feel that suicide was the only thing left to do? 

Had they thought of what they were leaving behind?

Perhaps through luck or just good timing, fellow former AFL star Wayne Schwass came into Koschitzke’s life at the right time – with an opportunity in hand.

Schwass was in the process of organising the Puka Up ride, a gruelling eight-day, 1433-kilometre trip from Sydney to Melbourne to shine a light on suicide.

Every 500 metres the group rides represents one of the 2866 Australians who took their life in 2016.

For Koschitzke, hearing Schwass speak opened his eyes about his own grief.

“I was living it, it was the first time I’d been close to it, gone to the funeral and gone through the grieving process,” he said.

“There was a lot of anger, a lot of questions why.

“People can sometimes think it’s selfish on that person’s behalf to leave behind what they leave in their wake, and I spoke to Wayne about that.

“He helped me clarify a lot of things, I came out of it with a whole new perspective.”

Men, especially, could put up a facade – even though they were emotionally affected by things, according to Koschitzke.

“They don’t talk about their feelings, they just want to be the breadwinner, the provider,” he said.

“I realised you would have to have gone through some excruciating mental pain for a long time to even be in that frame of mind.”  

That one conversation prompted Koschitzke to commit to the journey, which begins in Sydney on March 16 with a stop in Albury on March 20 for a community forum.

The former St Kilda, Lavington and Brock-Burrum forward admits it’s been a challenge to get fit in time for the ride, but said the race to be ready had spurred him on.

“It’s exciting, it’s a really humbling experience to be a part of something like this,” he said.

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