This time last year Australian Nick Lawson was studying to become a nurse in Sydney and made ends meet as a part-time Uber driver. If you were to ask where one might find him today, you would need to look somewhere in East Africa.
While there is nothing out of the ordinary about an Australian in Africa, what is extraordinary is how he got there. On Valentine’s Day this year, Lawson began what 99% of people might describe as a bad idea, silly, and downright impossible. His motivation was also frowned upon by the majority. Despite his naysayers on February 14, a day after turning 27, Lawson started his journey of running from the most southern to the most northern tip of Africa, barefoot. And so began the Run for Love 2018 (R4L).
Lawson’s song is one of love and global unity, and through completing this monumental feat of traveling the length of the continent along the east side, he hopes it inspires others to start Nick Lawson braving the streets of Australia thinking differently about what love is. Established Africa spoke to Lawson in Cape Town shortly before he left and learnt more about the impetus behind R4L. The desire to spread this message of love stemmed from his own journey, Lawson said.
“I’ve been learning to love myself the last eight or nine years, because I realised at a young age that I actually don’t feel very good about who I am as a human,” he said. “I want people to learn to start thinking about love. I’m not telling anyone how to love or what love is. I have no idea what it is, it’s everything to me, but I just want people to start thinking about love and start learning to love themselves, and love each other and help each other.”
On his journey, from Cape Agulhas in South Africa to Ras ben Sakka in Tunisia, he has been inviting people to join him, and they have. Sometimes they joined for a few hundred metres, sometimes for a few days. Young Sebastian, a 17 year old from England, joined him along the way, as well as Gihwan Joo from South Korea and Carl Svangtun from Canada.
He has also met hundreds of people who have connected with him in various ways, whether by sharing a meal, offering a lift or a night’s stay, or simply with a conversation or greeting. Two professional athletes ran with Lawson while he was in Zimbabwe, including the country’s Brightmore Mbombo, a long-distance runner who longs for opportunities to shine.
Lawson wants to use the journey as a platform to highlight the disconnectedness of the global community, stemming from differing education systems, social media and history, and encourage unity. The support he has received so far, often from strangers, has been overwhelming.
“Growing up, my parents’ generation were always complaining about how bad the world was and that it’s all going downhill, and I used to believe that. And then I just flipped it on its head and thought, you know what, actually we can all change the world, if we just change ourselves first and put in an effort to do something and get something started,” he said.
Though mostly fearless, Lawson is concerned for his family in Sydney who are worried for his safety as he runs through Africa. He fought a cold and even contracted malaria along the way, but has since recovered. His family are also worried about the condition of his feet. Despite this, slipping on takkies is an unlikely occurrence — barring the time he was forced to conform to embassy rules to attain a Rwandan visa.
“When you’re running barefoot you run carefully. It keeps you in the present, instead of thinking ‘I’ve still got 40 km to go’… If I get to day 100 and I can’t run anymore I won’t run anymore. I won’t destroy my body to try and prove something. I’m just doing this because it feels right,” he said earlier this year.