Welcome ! Let me tell you my story

We’ve had a bunch of people signing on to http://www.captainaustralia.online, interested in following the blog – so I thought I’d do a post describing the whole story, to provide it in full with the wider context

Captain Australia’s BIG WALK

This is a story about building hope, about fixing a broken life.

My name is Simon, and in September 2016, I was diagnosed with an invasive stage 4 head and neck cancer. I was given six months to live, and about a 40% chance that chemo-radiation could either beat the cancer, or unlock other treatment options like surgery.

I got lucky. I had total metabolic response to treatment. Six months later, the tests indicated the cancer was completely gone.

Radiation treatment at the Royal Brisbane Hospital

But there is no lucky with cancer, not really. 

It isn’t just a disease of the body, it also attacks your mind, your spirit, your relationships. It tries to suck every little piece of joy and hope from your life. It looms on your horizon like an ever-threatening storm. Every cough, muscle spasm, moment of fatigue had you wondering if the cancer has come back to claim you.

I spent the next four years in existential crisis. A slow decline. Falling to pieces one bit at a time, hope, purpose, sense of place in the world — these things all slowly eroding.

At the end of the fourth year, I had my moment of clarity. 

I was under-performing as a parent. I was basically just waiting to die. Everything I’d tried had failed or was failing. Chemo-radiation wrecked my thyroid (the gland that regulates your metabolism). I’d gained about 60kg after treatment (even with a PEG feeding tube directly into my stomach, and food losing it’s taste as a chemotherapy side effect).

I turned it around over the following 12 months, and began a great and transformative Quest. The purpose of my story is to explain HOW, in the hopes that it might be a roadmap for other suffering people — a pathway out of sorrow. One of the most profound things I learned during this experience is the truth of the old Buddhist saying “kindness is the antidote to sorrow”.

I decided to take a BIG WALK.

One day, walking my young children to school (having 3 very young childen was by far the worst aspect of cancer, the idea of abandoning my children, either by dying or the slow slipping away as hope and viability is eaten by the cancer).

Walking, I remembered that when I was a child, I had a moment where I profoundly transformed my life. I was 15, and living in a grey environment, life stretching in front of me .. sterile and uninviting. Raised by a single mother who was addicted to heroin, life had imprinted dark lessons on me. It wanted me to become a liar and a thief. It taught me that I was unlovable, unworthy of love. False lessons, but powerful.

At age 15, I had to escape. Leave home, or stay and die — even if death was just a slow withering on the vine. I put a pack over my shoulder, sold everything I owned and walked from Brisbane to Sydney, about 1000km.

My goal was to evade police and foster care (so no hitch-hiking, low visibility, and make it to my grandmother’s house.

It was a long adventure, but the key thing is that in it, I found HOPE. It was like leaving the hospital room where you were sure you were doomed to die, alone and suffering. 

So much later in life, needing hope again, I decided to do another BIG WALK.

That night, I started practicing. I was morbidly obese, in horrible pain, and I only managed to walk a bit over 3km. (Underwhelming, but I felt like a champion!)

The following day I did 5km.

The day after that, I did another 5km, and when I got back to my driveway, I was tired, I was whining to myself, eager to get into a hot bath, to rest, to have relief from the pain and struggle. But I said to myself “NO”. No. Turn around and DO IT AGAIN.

Like an automaton, or a soldier with no free will of their own, I did exactly that. I turned around and re-did this looping walk through my local suburbs. Slower and slower, more and more pain, but I did it.

The following night I walked 10km.

In a way, Captain Australia rose up inside me then. I’d created him back in 2006, and actually used to go out in public trying to do random acts of kindness (people thought that I thought I was batman, it was all about fighting crime, like that psycho Phoenix Jones. It was never about that, it was about unconsciously showing we that ‘comic book’ ideals like honour and selflessness SHOULD and CAN exist in our daily lives).

Brief side-note on those days: one time a young man (his name is Eden) in Parramatta (Sydney) wrote to me saying his bike had been stolen from the train station, “what are you going to do about it ??” (the implication being that I was useless and just for show). I went down there, met him (dressed up as Captain Australia) and said “I have a lead” (I didnt). We went to a local bike shop and I asked him to point out his bike or the one closest to it. He said his bike wasnt there, but this one (good bike ! about $500) was closest. 

So I bought it for him. I just wanted to inject a little justice and wonderment into someone elses life. (I mention that because the act of kindness came back at me like a boomerang, some 14 years later)

Fast forward back to 2021.

I spent that year walking daily, doing ‘practice walks’ (one time as far as the Gold Coast, I walked about 100km in one continuous walk over the span of 23 hours .. ohh the blisters).

I rebuilt the Captain Australia costume, bought new equipment, got myself ready for “Captain Australia’s BIG WALK” where I would walk from Brisbane to Melbourne (2200km+) dressed as the superhero Captain and raising money for paediatric cancer research (‘The Kids’ Cancer Project’) as no child should endure what I did.

I left on boxing day (26 December 2021) which was my birthday (like the hobbit Bilbo Baggins, who left on his Quest on his eleventy-first birthday – I figured I should set out on a mad and wandering quest on my birthday)

There was a lot of media coverage, the walk was a success. It was 84 days on the road, and I basically had to strip myself back as a human being, let go of all the unprocessed grief, anger and sorrow, and then rebuild.

It was a spiritual journey, it was an ethical rebuilding. I learned important lessons like:

  • kindness is the antidote to sorrow (never discourage it, pay it forward)
  • a broken life can be fixed (but hope is the necessary fuel)
  • good deeds echo, they ripple through the world, inspiring others, and that can come back and hit you in the head like a boomerang), it’s how we make the world better
  • We don’t have to fix the entire world, start with one life .. like the old proverb “save but one life, and you save the world, entire”
  • Time is the only currency that matters, and we should be mindful how we spend it

If you wanted to see the news reports and the whole story, you can visit my blog www.captainaustralia.online.

For a day-by-day journal, visit http://www.captainaustralia.online/journal

Back to that moment where the young man, Eden. On about the 48th day of the walk, I was camped in bush outside a town called Wollongong, and I got a message from The Kids’ Cancer Project. 

They’d received a donation with a personal message, this isn’t word-for-word, but basically what it said:

Captain, my name is Eden, and many years ago, I was a struggling apprentice who rode his bike to work. My bike was stolen, and life was tumbling down around me. I felt ready to give up. You came and met me and bought me a new bike. This kindness allowed me to keep my job, keep working, improve my life. I have a daughter now, and without you, I don’t think that would have happened. Please take this donation (it was $200 from memory), it’s not much, I’d like to give more, but as I think you know, raising kids isnt cheap.

You can see that, right ? How kindness comes back and surprises us, even years later ? I cried when I read that message, the idea that this young life, this new life full of promise and possibility, could even a little bit be attributed to me, to an act of kindness — I found that beautiful, pure and redeeming.

Things like that kept happening in the walk. People took inspiration, used that inspiration to apply meaningful change in their own life. I loved that. That me, this broken old man, this strange person with strange ideas, could generate and share something righteous and pure — and that inspiration could lift other people up. 

The idea that they then could undertake their own BIG WALK (a metaphor for life, really, moving forward despite whatever crushing setbacks you have), I love it. Adore it.

So that’s my story. 

I got to Federation Square in Melbourne on the 18th of March 2022.

The charity surprised me by having my family there, waiting for me. What a moment that was. If you’d like to see it, there’s video on the homepage of my site (www.captainaustralia.online).

The people in the picture were lovely folks that I met on the road, who came from all over to be there when I finished my walk.

(This is what I looked like on the road, by the way)

Now that my Mad Quest is done, I’ve had to think about ‘what next’.

Although in many ways I (and my life) are still a hot mess, I have a new strength. Cancer no longer plays a role in my life or decision-making (except in how I can help others with the struggle)

Because I am stronger, and I have this new lease on life, I have this sense of agency and urgency in deciding how to spend the time that is available to me.

I’ve decided to do the entire walk again, but this time continue .. completely circumnavigate Australia in one continuous on-foot journey. Most will think it’s not possible, that the old fool has completely lost it. But most also thought I couldn’t do my BIG WALK.

I can and will do this monolithic thing. It will take me 2 years, and in this Quest, I will be trying to meet other broken people, and we will elevate each other and share that openly with the public.

Kindness is the antidote to sorrow, and it is the medicine through which a broken life can be fixed.

Let me finish sharing my mate Archer. He got completely behind the BIG WALK, a little boy confined the whole time to the ICU at Westmead Hospital, dealing with blood cancer (bone marrow transplants, incredible pain and hardship, over a span of months).

I’d send him postcards from the road, and at the end photoshopped out the tubes and stuff and made this poster of me (and him as BOOMERANG BOY!). That’s an example of how we can lift each other up. I’m proud to report little man is thriving now. At home, and hopefully walking away from cancer — just as I did.

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