Amie Ryalls was a fan of Coastrek well before she undertook her first 30km challenge on the Mornington Peninsula, 45 minutes’ drive from her home, in May this year.
“Of course, I’d heard of it – Specsavers has been involved for years – and it features on my social feed. But I’d never been able to do it, schedule wise.”
So when the call went out around the office for people to sign up to walk either 20, 30 or 50km to raise money for the Heart Foundation, and her diary was wide open, Specsavers’ Head of Professional Communications jumped at the chance.
“It’s quite embedded in the culture to do Coastrek,” says Amie. “It’s a cultural thing – you don’t have to beat too many drums to get people involved.”
So much so that seven teams (of four) entered the challenge, which stretches from Cape Schanck to Point Nepean along the wildly beautiful Mornington Peninsula coastline.
“I love it down there,” Amie says. “Wineries and golf courses – the perfect mix!”
Both were put on hold, however, while Amie and her team tackled the 30km route. “It was an incredible day – the route took us six hours and 21 minutes to complete, with some pretty tough soft-sand and wind to contend with.”
Interestingly, the team of four met for the first time on the morning of the event. “Specsavers encourages you to walk with people you don’t know or work with on a daily basis,” she says. “It’s a really interesting and great way to spend time with people from other parts of the business.”
While all are based at Specsavers’ Melbourne headquarters, the team members (Amie, Sarah, Chris and Scott) don’t cross paths often. “Chris is in the Victorian field team, so is out in stores a lot; Scott is in Business Development, so is in-store a lot too; and Sarah is in Retail Operations. ”
The foursome started a group chat, where they introduced themselves and shared their individual training walk details, such as “I’ve just done a 9km walk and this was my experience of it, or I did 10km yesterday and my legs are aching”.
“Our schedules just never aligned to get together for a training walk, what with kids and relationships, but we knew we’d have a lot of time on the day to get to know each other.”
And that they did, starting and finishing as a team, walking shoulder to shoulder and heel to toe for the entire duration.
“We talked pretty much non-stop,” Amie says.
Teamwork in the face of challenging conditions also got them through. “We were walking along the beach, where you come around the back side of the peninsula and it’s quite exposed, for about an hour and a half with the wind whipping sand up into our faces, but we were talking and laughing and joking. We had makeshift races with other teams and adopted walkers from other groups, people we didn’t even know from all different companies. We felt like renegades! It made what could have been a hard slog really enjoyable.”
Their mindset, too, set them up for success. “We all decided we wanted to put our heads down and get it done. We didn’t stop for lunch – I think if we had it would’ve been hard to get going again. We snacked as we walked – protein balls and bars, trail mix, bananas – and when we crossed the finish line together it was amazing.
“We all went in with the right attitude and came out six hours later with not just new colleagues, but new friends.”
The foursome stay in touch, via their group chat, and when they do see one another in the office, all stop to say hi, chat about their weekends, families and, from time to time, even work.
“It makes it far easier to communicate when you know people on that level,” Amie says. “And that new understanding, of who they are as well as what they do, has certainly helped me in my job.”
These new relationships, forged in the furnace of fun and fitness, are also helping bridge the COVID gap.
“Specsavers has always been renowned for its culture – as being a collegiate and friendly place to be. It’s one big office. Our labs are here, our warehouse is here, and before COVID people spent a lot of time together.
“When everyone was working from home, however, people were worried we would lose that. But then things like Coastrek come along and you get a lot of people volunteering, willing to walk a long distance and spend time chatting with their colleagues… It shows it [the culture] isn’t lost, we’re just looking for different ways to connect.”
And connect they did. In all, members of the Specsavers’ team walked a collective 1000 km and raised $24,000 for the Heart Foundation, thanks in no small part of their generous colleagues and, of course, families and friends.
So, would Amie do it again?
“I’m talking about doing the 50km with my immediate team next year. So yes, absolutely, sign me up!”