A tour de force: cycling for change

The Pedal Sri Lanka team together for a photo.

A tour de force: cycling for change

The Pedal Sri Lanka team together for a photo.

Family connections, personal experience and a desire to improve medical outcomes for those less fortunate spurred Kieran Michael to cycle 1350 kilometres around Sri Lanka and raise funds for the country’s lone paediatric cardiac centre.

Initially, Kieran Michael APAM, who works at The Alfred Hospital, Melbourne, had planned a solo ride, but when word of his plan spread, friends and family—including some current and retired nurses from Monash Health—offered to join.

The 27-member Pedal Sri Lanka team quickly became a tour de force as they trained for and then completed the 21-day charity ride in February 2024.

At the time of going to print, the group had raised about $63,000 for Lady Ridgeway Hospital for Children in Colombo, exceeding its $30,000 goal. 

Through the assistance of charity partner Australia Sri Lanka Medical Aid Team, funds will support the hospital to purchase medical equipment.

‘It was all friends and family. We have been overwhelmed with support from individuals and organisations wanting to donate,’ says Kieran, who has strong connections to the island country. 

‘Sri Lanka has always felt like my second home. My dad was born in Colombo and I’ve visited probably 10 or 12 times. 

Kieran Michael APAM.
Kieran Michael APAM.

'I lived there for six months in 2016 after completing my first degree [a Bachelor of Health Science from Deakin University].

‘I did an internship at a physiotherapy practice for three months, which I really enjoyed, and this led me to studying physiotherapy upon returning home. 

'I also played cricket while I was there, so it was a very formative experience. 

'It’s probably what created my desire to give back to the community because I had such a positive experience.’

Kieran graduated from Australian Catholic University, Ballarat, with a degree in physiotherapy in 2021, working at Ballarat Base Hospital and Newington Physiotherapy before returning to his hometown of Melbourne in 2024.

The charity ride saw the team set off from Negombo on the country’s west, heading north to Jaffna and hugging the coastline in a clockwise direction.

‘Sri Lanka is a teardrop shape about the size of Tasmania. 

'We wanted to hug the coast as close as possible. 

'We went up north, along the east coast then down to the south coast, finishing in a place called Galle. 

'It was about 19 days of action on a bike, with a rest day in the middle.’

Cycling up to 100 kilometres a day, with 5am starts and days that reached 90 per cent humidity, they rode through war-affected areas, national parks and had close encounters with wild elephants. 

‘At one point we had to stop riding and get in the buses for a few kilometres because they were blocking the road.’

Local tour company Experiential Journeys provided ground support with accommodation, vehicles and sourcing bicycles.

‘Once the ride started scaling up, we realised we couldn’t coordinate everything ourselves, and they also helped find an experienced crew of 10 locals—four who rode on the bikes with us, an engineer, two jeep drivers and two bus drivers. 

'I took my own bike, because it was what I knew and trusted… mind you, I could have done more training before I left, but we got there.’

The jeeps carried the bikes and the buses any rider who needed a break. 

‘We did traverse some off-road trails, so it wasn’t an easy ride. 

'Initially, I thought it was going to be something that I would just do myself and have my family come with a van for support, but to share it with family and friends has been unbelievable. 

'We would arrive in remote communities, many of which would never have seen a cycle tour before. 

'Yet, they invited us into their homes, fed us and gave us water. They opened their homes to us.

‘We are all grateful for the support and donations we have received to be able to help the hospital.’

Kieran is particularly proud of the input from his parents Wesley and Christine (a retired blood management nurse consultant at Monash Health), and brothers Aidan and Luke, who not only helped organise the ride but also rode. 

Family input: (from left) brother Aidan, Kieran, father Wesley, mother Christine and brother Luke.
Family input: (from left) brother Aidan, Kieran, father Wesley, mother Christine and brother Luke.

He credits his parents with instilling his interest in health equity, social justice and a curiosity of other cultures. 

‘Through them, and the experiences I was able to have in travelling, I learned and understood that not all countries are alike, there is no fairness in accessing medical care.

‘In my lifetime, Sri Lanka has experienced civil war, the Boxing Day tsunami, terrorist bombings and, most recently, a financial crisis that led to a shortage of food, gas and petrol. 

'Things that, growing up in Australia, we would never imagine going through, or going without.

‘The combination of war, natural disasters and weak government has significantly affected the public healthcare system, causing a lack of medical resources and growing waitlists for surgery, especially for children.’

Kieran gained clarity in how to support the Sri Lankan community last year. 

‘It was a family holiday to visit family. We visited the hospital together and heard about the growing pressures in the public health system. 

'We were invited into theatre and shown the lack of, or otherwise outdated, medical equipment. 

'Incredibly, this was while a lifesaving open-heart surgery was being performed on a three-month-old child in the same theatre, with the same equipment.

‘This hospital is the largest specialised medical facility in the country, and the only one dedicated to the care of children. 

'Each year, a dedicated team performs about 800 cardiac surgeries and there are still 2000 children on the waitlist. 

'The work the team does is incredible.’

Not-for-profit aid organisation Australia Sri Lanka Medical Aid Team was chosen as charity partner because of its experience in the delivery of donated medical equipment and other supplies to Sri Lanka, including to Lady Ridgeway Hospital for Children.

‘It’s their area of expertise. We raise the money and they will work with the hospital on what to purchase and ensure it reaches there.

‘Because of my background as a physiotherapist, my criteria for selecting any charity had to be related to public health. 

'The Australia Sri Lanka Medical Aid Team has similar values in wanting to provide improved access to quality healthcare—sending millions of dollars in medical equipment to Sri Lanka—along with a strong focus on sustainability and education through medical missions to provide teaching and training to doctors and other staff.’

Another charity ride is a possibility. 

‘This was a lot of effort, especially for my parents, but given how successful it was, if there was enough interest, I would absolutely love to be involved in something similar going forward.

‘We have all achieved a lot together, and I think the concept of combining a travel experience that ultimately gives back to the community would appeal to many people. Let’s see what happens.’

Donations to Pedal Sri Lanka 2024 are tax deductible and go directly to Australia Sri Lanka Medical Aid Team to procure
equipment for Lady Ridgeway Hospital for Children. Discover more at @pedalsrilanka_

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