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Bill Van Nierop is a Man on a Mission

Updated: Jul 24, 2023

Diagnosed with Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis (IPF) back in 2015 and not one to just sit around and wallow in self-pity, Bill has been determined to make a difference for other sufferers of this serious lung disease.

IPF is almost never caused by smoking (idiopathic means cause unknown, but generally it is as a result of environmental factors).

Firstly, Bill refused to let the disease define him. He began by working hard to improve his general overall fitness and he also started to speak up about IPF and community attitudes towards lung disease.

His fund-raising efforts began in 2016 when he walked in the Sydney City to Surf and raised an amazing $16 000 for IPF research.

Following this, Bill then started to come up with some very creative (some might say harebrained for someone with such a serious diagnosis) and exhausting fund-raising ideas.

The “Long Walk for Lungs” in 2017 was a gruelling trek of 697 kms. Bill jokes that the distance would have been a much easier 597kms if it had not been for the enterprising Managing Director of major sponsor AGnVET who added two more towns/branches so that they would not feel left out.

The walk took 15 days and went via 14 of the AGnVET stores culminating in Forbes where the original store opened back in 1915. This was a remarkable mental and physical challenge. Bill not only completed the walk but bravely spoke openly about IPF and his experience whenever he reached a new town.

Along the way he was also accompanied by many of his AGnVET colleagues and a gala fund-raising dinner was held in Forbes to celebrate Bill’s incredible achievement.

Mark Giffin, Managing Director of AGnVET, was able to observe Bill’s effort up close as he was one of those who accompanied Bill for part of the walk. Giffin says, “Bill was amazing – once he began walking he was mentally ‘switched on’ and all those who joined him were motivated to keep going despite the many challenges. Completing such a task with very limited lung capacity was truly inspirational.”

$100,000 was raised as a result of this very long walk, however, he had more ideas! Next up he decided to embark on the “Long Kayak for Lungs” in which Bill aimed to paddle all the way from Albury on the NSW – Victoria border 2200kms down the Murray River all the way to Wellington in South Australia. This feat took 42 days to complete and raised $94 000 and luckily Channel 9 got hold of the story and as a result of their story which aired on the Today program IPF was given much needed national publicity.

Mark Giffin (AGnVET) said that with the “Long Kayak for Lungs” it was a little more challenging for as many AGnVET employees to be involved as they didn’t have as many branches along the Murray River as they did along the route of the Long Walk. Giffin said, “but we were always going to be very supportive of Bill’s fundraising activities. We can certainly see the need to increase awareness of IPF and the desperate need for funds. Bill is a mate and we’ll support him as a mate.”

Several years on and Bill still hasn’t given up. This time he is planning “Long Kayak for Lungs 2” which is an attempt to paddle 1,400kms down the Murrumbidgee River from Jugiong to the junction with the Murray River near Boundary Bend. Bill actually came up with this idea when he had a stint in ICU and overheard the doctors suggesting that he might “be in trouble”! This comment was all the motivation that Bill needed to once again get up and keep going.

As Bill says, he is now 5 years older, the process of his lung transplant and post-operative infections have resulted in upper body muscle loss and logistically he may need extra assistance like daily help with launching the kayak and removing it from the water each evening. Typical of Bill though he is not going to let any of this stop him and will forge ahead hopefully with plenty of community support as well as sponsors like AGnVET who are once again happy to be involved.

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