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Love conquers: Samuel Johnson's Australia by unicycle

Alia Parker's picture
Samuel Johnson and his sister Connie Johnson for Love Your Sister. Cycle Traveller

Samuel Johnson admits a single-speed unicycle isn't the most practical way to cycle around Australia, but out of respect to the current world record holder for the longest unicycle journey, he decided to do it the hard way – and he's making great progress.

With more than 9,000km down since February, the actor's on track to set a new Guinness World Record of more than 15,000km by January, when he will have unicycled through every state and territory of Australia.

“We've managed to arrive everywhere on time so far, which is a minor miracle. I'm really thrilled with how it's going,” he told Cycle Traveller.

The previous record was set by Lars Clausen, who rode 14,686.82km through 48 states of America in 2002. But for Samuel, breaking the world record is only a small part of the big picture. His 35-year-old sister Connie is dying from a cancer that was heartbreakingly misdiagnosed by doctors. If you think Samuel is pushing himself to the limits, he's not the only one.

Love Your Sister

Connie Johnson is a mother of two young boys who at age 33 was diagnosed with mastitis, even though she wasn't breast feeding at the time. By the time doctors realised it was breast cancer, it had spread to her lymph nodes and lungs. Now, age 35, despite 25 rounds of chemotherapy over the past two and a half years, cancer cells have spread to her liver, kidneys, spine and pelvis – too rampant to be cured. Cumulative chemo sessions aimed at prolonging her life drained her of energy, resulting in her stopping her treatment for the past three months. She starts again this week.

Samuel Johnson riding his unicycle around Australia for Love Your Sister. Cycle Traveller

“You can only give so much chemo before you kill a person,” she says.

If fighting cancer isn't hard enough, Connie has spearheaded a successful charity called Love Your Sister which aims to raise $1 million for the Garvan Institute's medical research as Samuel makes his way around the country on one wheel. Just as important is the message Love Your Sister is shouting out loud and clear: Young women do get breast cancer, early detection is key to surviving, and all women should perform regular breast checks.

“You don't have to be 50 to get breast cancer. It's that simple,” Connie says. “I've met so many young people who have it. Since Love Your Sister, so many young people have come to me and shared their story with me.”

The charity is one fuelled by love, with Connie, Samuel, their friends and family working tirelessly together to reach the target. Indeed, all my communications with Emma Rooke – Connie's close friend and Love Your Sister's all-round organiser – take place on the cusp of midnight. Their determined efforts are paying off and Love Your Sister has so far raised more than $617,000 for the Garvan Institute, predominantly on small donations from individuals in the towns Samuel cycles through.

“I'm stoked. I can't believe the support we've been getting,” says Connie. “I think because everybody's been affected by cancer in someway, people can relate to our story and they feel it personally because so many people have lost loved ones or watched them go through this or been through it themselves.”

One wheeled wanderer

The idea for Samuel to ride a unicycle 15,000km around Australia started as a joke in the kitchen. But the joke had its merits. Connie was passionate about spreading her message, creating change and making a substantial donation to medical research, and Samuel's legs were the ticket.

Since pedalling out of Melbourne on February 15, Samuel has ridden his unicycle up through the centre of Australia to Darwin, down along the West Australian coast through Broome and around to Kalgoorlie. He is now back in Victoria in what he calls the “higgledy piggledy” section of the ride where he is racking up random k's while completing some sticky contract obligations. He'll then travel up the east coast and back before heading back to Kalgoorlie to finish off the missing link.

If riding a single-speed unicycle isn't challenge enough, Samuel will be heading up over Mount Kosciuszko.

Cycling near Redhill. Samuel Johnson for Love Your Sister. Cycle Traveller

“Why not! That will be a tough day,” he says. “Hills are fine, you just lean into them and push harder. It's a matter of just hopping out of your seat and pushing harder.”

Funnily enough, it's coming down the mountain he'll need to be careful of.

“You achieve your fastest speeds on flats, not downhills. Downhills are too hairy, so if it's a steep slope, you tend to just ride the disc brakes and go fairly slowly.”

It's a journey Samuel says he would “absolutely” do again, although not on a unicycle.

“Despite the eight or ten or twelve hours a day in the saddle, it has still been the absolute trip of a lifetime. I feel incredibly lucky to have been able to go on this trip,” he says. “You experience profound things on an almost daily basis. Because I'm travelling at such a slow speed, I really do get time to soak it all in, so I've seen some remarkable things, people and places.”

The logistics behind the world record attempt have been immense and working with Connie to make Love Your Sister a success has brought the already close siblings even closer together, despite the physical distance.

“Mostly it feels like she's right there with me because we've worked on this together and we're in contact so often. But there are certainly times when she feels like she's a world away and being away from her is one of the more challenging aspects of the ride,” Samuel says.

“However, Connie wasn't interested in me doing this ride in memorandum and she was as keen to watch the dream unfold as I was. Whenever I feel bad about being away from her, she just replies that 'What we're doing is bigger than us'.”

Samuel Johnson and his sister Connie of Love Your Sister. Cycle TravellerBigger than us

While the money raised by Love Your Sister goes towards vital medical research, you get the sense that it's the personal connections that fuel Connie's spirit, especially knowing that through her message she has already potentially saved lives.

“We've had three people tell us that because of our campaign, they got tested and were positive and all three of them have an early diagnosis and look like they have a good prognosis,” she says.

Connie says people need to overcome the idea that breast cancer is something that only affects older women. She said her doctors brushed off the possibility of cancer because of her age and she was happy to accept their diagnosis of mastitis because it was preferable to having cancer.

“If I had been more proactive and insisted on scans and insisted on the answers as to why it wasn't going away, then I might have been diagnosed earlier. If I had been diagnosed earlier then it might not have spread and I might have been finished my treatment and getting on with the rest of my life instead of dying from this disease,” she says. “That's why early detection is so important.”

Connie says that for most women, the problem is not misdiagnosis, but rather late diagnosis because they never went to the doctor in the first place.

“We want women to include it in their regular health check, so when they have their pap smear, they can have a breast examination done by the doctor,” she says. “The doctor is not going to routinely do that if you're young, but will do it if you ask.”

She said women should not just look for lumps, but for anything that is different.

“You don't have to go and get a mammogram or an ultrasound, just a breast examination by your doctor is fine. It's more about being aware and, if there are changes, being proactive.”

Love Your Sister has raised 60% of its target of $1 million for the Garvan Institute, a world leader in biomedical research. You can donate to the cause through the Love Your Sister website.

Images courtesy of Love Your Sister.


Alison's picture

What an amazing person you are Samuel. Well done.

Roger Chandler's picture

Congratulations to you on your great effort! I have endeavoured to make my cycle touring as comfortable as possible. I even spurned the standard "Diamond-Framed" bike for an extremely comfortable and ergonomic Recumbent. I have ridden a unicycle in my youth and could not imagine the adaptation I would need to make to tour using one of those. Your fundraising purpose is admirable too, keep up the good work. When your quest has been achieved and you want to continue with energetic life endeavours, I can recommend cycle touring using a tent/ camping equipment and a bicycle/trike arrangement of your choice as a rewarding and relaxing lifestyle.

I have just been to the Kincumber Hotel,to welcome Samuel Johnson. Where do I start,...He is inspiring,amazing and incredibly lovable.Samuel took time for every person he spoke to,with a very sincere and appreciative Thank You.
I think Connie is so brave and beautiful.She has touched my heart very much.
I have followed LYS on television,and when I found out they were stopping at the central coast,I had to meet this wonderful person. From the moment he rode in on his unicycle I was mesmerised,he is very good looking,..but seriously,..he is the most down to earth Aussie I have met,and how he has touched people, and to give all for this cause,I have the utmost Respect for him.He loves his sister with all his heart,and he has touched mine,I wish him a safe journey back to Melbourne,and lots of love for his sister.
Lots of L O V E

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