Cardiologist on his bike for $5 million fund

Looking forward with nervous anticipation to their fundraising cycle the length of New Zealand...
Looking forward with nervous anticipation to their fundraising cycle the length of New Zealand next week are Dunedin orthopaedic surgeon Dr Mike Chin, Dunedin cardiologist Assoc Prof Gerard Wilkins and Dunedin cycle shop owner Steve Dyet. Photo by Jane Dawber.
From the comfort of an armchair, in front of a warm fire in the middle of winter, with a glass of pinot noir, 2117km does not seem that far.

But now that the reality of cycling from one end of New Zealand to the other is only a week away, Dunedin cardiologist Assoc Prof Gerard Wilkins' nerves are starting to manifest the excitement.

Next Monday, Prof Wilkins (55) will be joined by Dunedin orthopaedic surgeon Dr Mike Chin (48) and Browns Avanti Plus Cycle Specialists owner Steve Dyet (48) in the National Heart Foundation's Great Ride for Heart, which starts at Cape Reinga and finishes in Bluff on Valentine's Day.

"After preaching to patients for years that they should get fit and adopt a healthier lifestyle, it's now time to put my money where my mouth is," Prof Wilkins said.

"I think it is a good cause, but it is also a personal challenge. It's a very long way. It is like doing a marathon every day."

The shortest ride in the 14-day cycle is 114km and the longest 214km.

Of the 67 cardiologists, health professionals and keen cyclists taking part, 24 are cycling the full length of the country.

The money raised will go towards the $5 million needed to establish a Cardiovascular Research Fund.

The proposed Heart Foundation Chair in Heart Health would allow the development of a new university research hub and project work aimed specifically at heart disease prevention that was relevant to particular New Zealand needs.

Prof Wilkins said heart disease was still New Zealand's number one health problem and the research would be directed at the current big issues, such as inactivity, weight gain and diabetes.

"This [the cycle ride] is the symbolic end of it. Getting out of your white coat and on your bike."

He was inspired to join the ride as he had been a Heart Foundation scholar in the United States in the early years of his career.

"The National Heart Foundation has had a policy of funding cardiologists, when they are younger, as scholars in the best institutions in the world, with no strings attached."

While it could be expected the scholars would not return to New Zealand, they did and the programme "hugely assisted" in the professional development of cardiologists, he said.

"Now it's payback time."

Each rider has raised $10,000 sponsorship to undertake the ride and was paying their own way, so every dollar raised went towards the fund.

To sponsor a rider or follow their progress visit

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