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Canberra high school teacher dies on US cross-country cycling quest

Date

Natasha Boddy

Joanna Abernethey was riding 6200km across America to raise money for the Martin Luther King foundation.

Joanna Abernethey was riding 6200km across America to raise money for the Martin Luther King foundation. Photo: Elesa Kurtz

A Lyneham mother and school teacher who died while cycling 6200 kilometres across America has been remembered as a sensitive and compassionate soul who just wanted the world to be a better place. 

Tributes have flowed for Joanna Abernethy, 51, who died last Saturday after she was reportedly hit by a car while cycling along a highway in eastern Indiana. 

Friends have expressed shock and heartbreak at her death, remembering her as an inspirational soul and "lovely lady". 

Some posted tributes in an online forum, with a family friend saying they were deeply saddened and she "would be terribly, terribly missed" and was doing what "she loved doing". 

Another remembered her as a "smiling primary school kid and, later, as always the most gorgeous girl in the room in her quiet and unaffected intelligence".

They described Ms Abernethy as a "sensitive and compassionate soul who just wanted the world to be a better place".

Ms Abernethy was about three months in to her cycling quest across America to pay tribute to Martin Luther King jnr.

Ms Abernethy was interviewed by The Chronicle in January, revealing how her life-long admiration for Dr King had inspired the epic adventure. 

She was no stranger to ultra-long cycling trips, having cycled around Europe and ridden around New Zealand, although the US ride would be her biggest yet. 

As part the ride, Ms Abernethy was raising money for a number of charities including the King Centre in Atlanta, Georgia, which helps disadvantaged kids get a good education. 

Although Ms Abernethy, who spent time in America during her childhood and attended a school in Mississippi, was only five when Dr King was assassinated, she recalled how his death had a "big impact" on her. 

"I've always been really touched by the life of Martin Luther King, as a lot of people are. I really wanted to pay tribute to him in some way," she told The Chronicle

Ms Abernethy's online blog reveals she set off on her bike ride on May 8 from Astoria, near Portland, Oregon. She had anticipated the trip would take about three months and she planned to finish in Washington, DC. 

She revealed she began training on her daughter's Malvern Star bike and how a cyclist friend "began to show up at my door to push me along". She documented how her training progressed from her first ride around Lake Burley Griffin and how over six or seven weeks, she "rode up every small mountain in Canberra".

She also joined yoga and CrossFit classes, with CrossFit 2600 posting on their Facebook page: "Extremely sad to hear the news that a 2600 member has lost her life. Her bubbly personality will be missed. Our hearts go out to Jo's family."

Ms Abernethy documented the first few days of her trip on an online blog, detailing the kindness of people she met along the way, with some even offering her accommodation, food or donations. 

One such man was Frank Briscoe who offered her accommodation in Nevada. 

"I have been bicycling for nearly nine years and have made incredible friends on the road. Bicylists are an enthusiastic group but I must say that I have never met anyone with a story like Joanna's," he wrote on his blog and in the Nevada Daily Mail just a week before Ms Abernethy's death.

"Who knew that fateful night that I was about to become friends with one of the most fascinating individuals I have ever met?

"Joanna possesses heart, determination and dares to face the obstacles ahead of her." 

Mr Briscoe also wrote how Ms Abernethy was "profoundly touched but also surprised" at the kindness of the strangers. 

"Joanna genuinely appreciates our country, its beauty, but most importantly, the people. It was a privilege to meet her and now an honour to call Joanna my friend," he wrote.

AAP reported Wayne County Sheriff's Department, near the Indiana and Ohio border, had launched an investigation into Ms Abernethy's death.

With AAP. 

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