LOVELY SURPRISE: Gabe Watkin was moved to tears during the birthday drive-by on Sunday.
LOVELY SURPRISE: Gabe Watkin was moved to tears during the birthday drive-by on Sunday.

WATCH: Incredible birthday gift that left CQ woman in tears

FOR advanced motor neurone disease sufferer Gabe Watkin, every birthday is special, a grand accomplishment in her battle with the "dreaded beast".

Her 52nd birthday was made more memorable when close friends and members of her beloved Yeppoon Swans AFL club organised a birthday drive-by.

Gabe shed tears of joy as the convoy of well-wishers rolled past her home on Sunday.

The event was organised with military precision, a special codeword even used to ensure the birthday girl was in her front yard at the right time.

Swans secretary Elle Wallin and her sister Darcie McGuire got the ball rolling.

They contacted Swans president Peter Watkins and Gabe's two sisters - Rebecca and Lara Sullivan - to see if it was do-able.

Together they spread the word to the community and the novel birthday surprise was in full swing.

Rebecca explains how her son Zac played an integral role.

"We were discussing how we were going to get Aunty Gabe out the front without her knowing there was something going on," she said.

"He thought of the codeword idea. We would get a phone call when the convoy was ready and I had to say to him: 'You look really good in your footy gear today'.

"He then knew it was time to get Gabe down to the front garden to show her the present he'd bought her.

"She was very unsuspecting. We got her out in the front yard and then the cars started coming past.

 

The convoy rolls past in a birthday drive-by for much-loved Yeppoon community member and motor neurone disease sufferer Gabe Watkin.
The convoy rolls past in a birthday drive-by for much-loved Yeppoon community member and motor neurone disease sufferer Gabe Watkin.

 

"She had quite a few tears at the end. I asked if they were happy tears and she said yes because she couldn't believe people would take the time to do something like that for her."

Gabe echoed those sentiments in an email she sent to Peter.

"It was a lovely surprise. I was totally unaware of the whole thing. It was very special," she wrote in an email using eye-gaze technology.

"Can you pass on my thanks to everyone for me. It made my day."

Gabe was diagnosed with MND in July 2017, just a week after losing her mother to cancer.

The courage and positivity she has shown since the diagnosis has touched and inspired the Yeppoon community and in particular those at the Swans, where she is a life member.

The club has for the past two years run Freeze MND, which has raised $130,000 for research into the terminal neurodegenerative disease.

Gabe has been directly involved in that and with promoting the national fundraiser, the Big Freeze.

COVID-19 restrictions mean the Swans event will not go ahead as usual this year but the club is working on an alternative, possibly an Icebox Challenge.

The national event, too, will look different. People are being urged to buy an iconic "Fight MND" beanie and fill the MCG virtually on June 8.

 

The Yeppoon Swans donned special guernseys for last year’s FreezeMND Day to support Gabe Watkin.
The Yeppoon Swans donned special guernseys for last year’s FreezeMND Day to support Gabe Watkin.

 

Gabe is also helping to promote that, and Rebecca believes her involvement in the fundraising campaigns has been incredibly important.

"Gabe's always been a tough cookie, both physically and mentally," Rebecca said.

"I think she's just found purpose in things. She's had to change her purpose (because of her diagnosis) and her purpose at the moment is helping raise money for FightMND.

"For her to be part of that process is really significant and it's also given her the security that she lives in a community that cares.

"She often says she feels really humbled by the support around her and the Swannies are a big part of that."

Rebecca and Lara have seen it firsthand after they both moved from Melbourne to Yeppoon to help support Gabe just months after her diagnosis.

"Lara and I are both psychologists. Lara had done her Masters thesis on quality of life in MND. We never thought it would touch our family but we knew straight away what a dreaded disease it was.

"It's an ongoing grief process with MND because every few months or every little bit of time you lose something else. First you lose the use of your arms, then you can't walk, then you lose control of your bladder, then you lose your speech.

"Gabe manages amazingly well considering. She would say she's got pretty good quality of life, all things considered.

"The NDIS has been a great support for her, allowing her to continue her independence and to live life to the fullest - and she's making the most of it."

Rebecca said Gabe was rigidly adhering to the COVID-19 protocols because, due to her low lung capacity, the virus presented a very real threat.

"COVID's put a bit of a blip on what she can do now because she is in that vulnerable group but once we get the go-ahead and we're all clear up here, I'm sure she'll be back out and about."