A GROUP of Illawarra residents began a gruelling 900-kilometre bike ride this week to help close the indigenous health gap.
The 2013 Tour Da Country began last Friday morning with a family fun ride from Fred Finch Park, Berkeley, to official celebrations at Lake Illawarra PCYC.
The Tour Da Country, now in its second year, aims to raise awareness of healthy lifestyles in indigenous communities. It was launched at a health information day at the PCYC.
Shane Venables, ride organiser and co-ordinator of the Illawarra Koori Men's Support Group, said at least ten cyclists from the Illawarra were taking part in the entire ride.
Riders left from Albion Park Rail on Monday.
The two-week trek ends on November 8 at Albury Wodonga Aboriginal Health Service.
Keiraville resident Mr Venables said the trek would be making stops at indigenous communities along the way.
The event is the brainchild of Dale Wright of the Illawarra Aboriginal Medical Service.
"We're going to promote healthy lifestyles for Aboriginal people, and each community where we stop will be holding a health day, similar to this today," Mr Venables, 34, said.
"(It's) just an opportunity to pop in, have a yarn about what the tour's about, and looking after ourselves, getting more exercise, trying to give up the smokes, eat healthier and go an get a health check."
Sponsors include the Illawarra Shoalhaven Medicare Local.
"I think it's just to get our mob to start thinking about our health, and take control of our health into our own hands," Mr Venables said.
"Just taking those small steps; start by walking an extra ten minutes a day, going to see a doctor when you're not feeling well, get that regular health check."
Mr Venables admitted he wasn't as physically prepared for the long ride as he would like to be.
"I only did four of the ten stages last year as my wife was having a baby. I don't feel as ready this time around, and this time I'm doing the whole leg."
Throsby MP Stephen Jones took part in the launch ride.
"It's one thing to have a doctor or a nurse tell you how to live your life, how to live a healthy lifestyle.
"But when you've got your cousin, your next door neighbour, your schoolmate in there alongside you setting an example, it's much more powerful."
Uncle Gerald Brown of Barrack Heights is chairman and president of the Illawarra Koori Men's Support Group.
"It's really important for these fellas. They're going to get some respect for themselves and go out in the country that don't have this sort of stuff going on."