While speaking as the keynote at this year’s Queensland Property Conference in the Gold Coast, actor Samuel Johnson shared his experience in co-founding the ‘Love Your Sister’ movement that saw him unicycle around Australia in a year to raise funds for breast cancer research.
Samuel unicycled nearly 16,000km for 364 days between 2013 and 2014, raising $1.5 million for the Garvan Institute of Medical Research, and setting a new world record for most distance travelled on a unicycle. During this time, Samuel and his team took part in more than 450 fundraisers and community events, took more than 1700 media calls, visited more than 65 schools and had “about a billion sausage sizzles”.
The idea was first sparked five years ago in the family kitchen when his sister Connie, who had battled cancer three times already, was told the cancer had spread and she had 6-12 months to live. Samuel told of how Connie decided her legacy would be to spread the word to mums around Australia to check their breasts for signs of cancer, as too often mothers put their health second to that of their children.
Connie told her brother that if just one person could be spared from the pain she and their family had to endure, then she would know her life had meant something. By utilising the uniqueness of the unicycle challenge, Samuel’s profile as an actor, and incorporating a unique challenge for every town and city he would visit along the way, they would engage enough people to make a difference and spread their message – “don’t fall into the booby trap. Check your boobs.”
“We needed a point of difference to attract people to our case,” said Samuel. “We’d need to stay long enough to engage in multiple community events with time to say thanks at the end. If we were going to be about awareness we might as well stay long enough to beat the drum.”
Samuel also invented what he called “the challenge system”, where he told every town he would do literally anything for a donation, preferably something particular to their area, which won them many donations and got them a lot of live coverage across Australia, often features on The Project and The Today Show.
“If I was in the south Australian back water I’d eat live huntsmen, if I was in croc country I’d swim with the f***ers. If olive pip spitting competitions are your thing, bring it on. If you want me to cross dress, no dramas,” he said.
Sam's Video Postcard to his sister Connie while on the home stretch of his Australia-wide unicycling journey: from Derby to Broome, WA.
After completing the journey and meeting the fundraising target weeks early, Samuel said he planned to retire to his vegetable garden and spend the rest of his life patting himself on the back – but instead, Samuel and Connie have set a new goal to raise $10 million dollars.
“I do love my new life, I’m proud to be a pink flag bearer and we are 23% of the way there. We’ve raised another $900,000 since I got off the unicycle, so we’re now sitting on a total of $2.3 million, which is very heart-warming,” he said.
“We’ve accumulated enough support now, to the point where we can easily reach 5 million people a week on social media, with some of our posts getting 100,000 likes.”
Along with driving the Love Your Sister campaign, Samuel still works as a voice over artist and actor, soon to appear in the role of Molly Meldrum in an upcoming television mini-series about the Australian music industry legend's life. In summarising what he learned on the road for his sister, Samuel shared some “pearls” that he thought up with some help from his favoured thought leaders, Oscar Wilde and Tim Minchin.
“There is only one sensible thing to do with this empty existence, and that is to fill it,” he said.
“Life is best filled by learning as much as you can, taking pride in whatever you’re doing, having compassion, sharing ideas, and being enthusiastic.
“Live the wonderful life that is in you, and let nothing be lost upon you. Be always searching for new sensations, be afraid of nothing. The world belongs to you for a season. Be yourself. Everybody else is taken.”