By Jessica Anstice
A TV game show sensation, a wrestler, and a charity fundraising superstar, Pakenham local Jake Ward has made some remarkable memories and achieved a lot over the years.
The local legend is as renowned and respected as they come in the Casey and Cardinia shires for raising over $100,000 singlehandedly for breast cancer research.
In 2017, the extraordinary man ran all the way from the Gold Coast in Queensland to Cranbourne, in a bid to raise as much money as he could for charity.
Just after he passed the finish line in Cranbourne, Mr Ward made a very public declaration of his love when he asked his partner Jess to marry him.
“Proposing to Jess at the finish line was the major highlight during the Gold Coast run,” he recalled.
“I believe she had no idea so it was great to propose to her at the end.”
The one-man fundraising machine has raised in excess of $100,000 for the National Breast Cancer Foundation – a charity he holds very close to his heart.
Before the big Gold Coast run, he completed a 110 kilometres run – 10 more than an ultra-marathon – in just under 19 hours to raise just over $8000 in 2014.
The following year, he ran a whopping 1000 kilometres from Sydney to Cranbourne in 16 days, raising more than $40,000.
“Meeting people and travelling through rural Australia and seeing towns with populations of under 100 was great,” he remembered.
“Being able to spread my story across Australia whilst meeting some amazing people is something I will always cherish.
“Helping other people is one of the most important things to do in society I believe. It is just a great feeling to help people out in any capacity – whether it is friends, family or even strangers – if everyone just helped out a little bit, the world would be a much more fun place to be in.”
Mr Ward’s focus is now on his loving wife Jess – who was diagnosed with breast cancer in February.
Eleven weeks into chemotherapy, Mr Ward said has been a very challenging time for the pair, however if it weren’t for all of the fundraising, then Jess’s treatment wouldn’t be going so well today.
“At this stage all my focus is assisting Jess in her recovery. She needs me more than anything – she is so strong, so inspiring during all of this, has never stopped smiling during this tough process and I am in absolute awe of her,” he said.
“She has been so brave and if I could describe a stronger word than proud then I would to describe Jess.
“I will always have fundraising in the back of my mind. Will I go on another big run? No. I have achieved everything I feel I can in that department, plus my body is absolutely knackered.”
When Mr Ward does decide to return to his everlasting fundraising journey, he hopes to get more people involved so they can “feel what I feel when you achieve something great”.
His 15 minutes of fame was at the start of the year, when he featured on popular Australian game show Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.
While he didn’t become a millionaire, he does believe he won the hearts of Australia.
“I absolutely love game shows – I think they are so much fun,” he said.
“When I was younger I wanted to be a game show host, I still do, so when my wife and I saw an ad on TV to audition for the show it was a no brainer to have a crack.”
Mr Ward sent a photo and small profile about himself to Channel Nine, before he was selected to attend a group audition for the show alongside about 60 other applicants.
When he reached the final phase of the auction process, he was asked to share a story in under one minute with the producers.
“I always need more than one minute,” he laughed.
Mr Ward described his time as a game show contestant as awesome and so much fun – a highlight being the friendship he formed with iconic tv presenter and Collingwood Football Club president Eddie McGuire.
“Eddie was mucking around and having fun with me,” he recalled.
“Having him talk to my wife Jess was great, and also spending the day with her was nice.
“I got to wrestle Eddie a bit and he laid down on the ground for me so I could elbow drop him – the producers were in awe as he has never laid down on the ground for any contestant.”
He said being in the ‘hot seat’ and having a laugh were also huge highlights.
“I would highly recommend everyone to try and get on.”
On the other hand, he is an enthusiastic arm wrestler and while the sport is often associated with a casual competition at the local pub, for Mr Ward, it’s much more serious than that.
On top of his fundraising efforts and TV experience, Mr Ward has been professionally arm wrestling for about 18 months.
“It was something I was always interested in, even as a little kid,” he said.
“I knew I would possibly transition into that sport once my footy and basketball careers finished up.”
A year and a half ago, he saw an advertisement for an arm wrestling competition in Dingley and the following day, him and his brother went to check it out.
“The guys were great. After speaking to the guy that was running the tournament, I knew I was going to give this sport a crack,” he said.
Mr Ward now trains with an armwrestling club called House of Pain in Dandenong and undertakes one ‘table time’ once a week.
“I try and get as much table time as possible as I believe that’s the best type of training, otherwise I will do armwrestling specific training at the gym three to four times a week,” he added.
“Your arms are burning for days after.”
His biggest armwrestling achievement to date was getting a pin against a man, who he thought was a much stronger, at a national championship.
“It was huge – such a rush and worth all the handwork I had put in,” he said.
“Also my commentary career has skyrocketed. I have been interviewing some of the best arm-wrestlers in the world on my podcast The Aussie Armwrestler.
“I am fortunate enough to have fans all over the world who enjoy my commentary style on armwrestling.”
As for the future, Mr Ward hopes to be able to sit in the World Armwrestling League commentary chair and call matches live.
“This league is on ESPN and FOXSports 1 in the US,” he added.
“The dream is to build my brand and get over there to make a career out of it.”