FORGET football, Billy Peden says, this is more important to me.
The Newcastle Knights and Cessnock Goannas legend made the bold declaration, sitting on the edge of Newcastle Harbour as the sun went down, as an afterthought at the end of a conversation.
But make no mistake, there’s plenty of thought that’s gone into a 284-kilometre trek across Papua New Guinea for the Mark Hughes Foundation.
It began on Christmas Day last year.
“You start thinking about your friends and family on Christmas Day,” Peden said.
“It just got to the point where I thought, ‘there’s more we can do to help people out’.
“We’re so lucky we’re in a fortunate position where we’re able to do that.”
Peden was quickly on the phone to his mate Paul “The Chief” Harragon about how they could help their former teammate Hughes and his foundation.
Hughes – a Kurri Bulldogs junior – established the foundation after he was diagnosed with a brain tumour in 2013.
Peden, Hughes and Harragon are now preparing to take on the Coast to Coast Challenge from the peaks of Buna in the north to humidity-soaked Port Moresby in the south.
We’ll be really testing ourselves- Mark Hughes
The trio will join 12 other intrepid adventurers for the gruelling 10-day foot and bike challenge, which also takes in the historic Kokoda Trail.
“We’re raising a lot of money for the foundation, which is wonderful, and now we’ve got to go out and earn that money,” Hughes said.
“We’ll be really testing ourselves.”
The group has exceeded their fundraising expectations and want to take $75,000 to $100,000 for research into brain cancer – one of the great unknowns of the medical world.
“I want everyone to know who’s reading this how much their support means to us,” Hughes said.
“It’s a really tremendous amount for a small community and something we can all be proud of.”
Peden was excited and daunted by the looming adventure.
“There’s a bit of anxiety there. You don’t want people to sponsor you and give you money for something that’s a walk in the park,” he said.
“I think it’s only previously been done by seven people.
“This might end up being the most important thing I’ve ever done … much more important than a game of footy on a Sunday.”
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