Vicki Johnson-Cain of Destrehan typically hops on her bike three to four times a week, riding from 10 to 20 miles each trip, depending on how much time she has. But each September, she gets more intense about her schedule.

That extra effort has put her near the top of the heap of riders from across the country taking part in this year’s Great Cycle Challenge USA, raising $30,371 for pediatric cancer research. The challenge went on through the month, but by Sept. 24, Johnson-Cain was ranked No. 1, reaching her goal of biking 363 miles. “I’ll probably go back out this afternoon,” she said on Sept. 25. “I’m going to try to crush it just a little bit more.”

By the time October rolled around, she’d logged 437 miles, 74 beyond the goal. (Donations are still being accepted at the Great Challenge website,

Cain has been pedaling the challenge for all six years that it has existed. The timing is not coincidental: The event’s birth corresponded with the death of her only child, William, 27, in an accident in 2014.

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Vicki Johnson-Cain took up cycling shortly before her son, William, passed away in 2014. Today, she rides to help others.

“The way I dealt with my grief and kept my sanity was to dive into volunteer work, going to the gym, trying to keep myself as busy as I could to stay out of my head,” she said. “I needed to turn it into something positive or it would have consumed me.”

Although William didn’t die from cancer, she feels a connection with the Great Cycle Challenge cause. “I understand what it’s like to lose a child,” Johnson-Cain said. “I can relate to children who are battling cancer and to families and parents … the whole dynamic. The family suffers as well.”

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Johnson-Cain rides the challenge in honor of Caleb Page, of Slidell, a recent high school graduate who’s been diagnosed with brain cancer. 

Her charity earnings go to the Children’s Cancer Research Fund, but she’s riding in honor of Caleb Page of Slidell, who was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer this past January. “He’s an inspiring young man. He just graduated from North Shore High School in Slidell. He’s also autistic,” she said.

Before the diagnosis he was accepted into Mississippi State University, but now his parents are keeping him close for treatment, and he’s taking online classes through North Shore Community Technical College.

The two met recently. “A friend got in touch with his mom,” Johnson-Cain said. “They have been big supporters of the campaign (the Great Cycle Challenge). I met him on a group ride. He and his mom came out — he’s a big fan of Snoopy, and I had some cookies made in the shape of Snoopy riding a bike. We had cookies.”

Johnson-Cain’s good works aren’t limited to the cycle challenge. She also volunteers with a food pantry, and works with special-needs kids and at her local animal shelter. She serves on the board for the pet rescue group, Turning Rescues Into Pets, which works closely with Wings Of Rescue

“I think I was always somewhat that way (volunteer-oriented), but it did turn a corner. I was laid off in 2016 from a company where I’d worked for 16 years. I got severance, and I took some time off. That’s when the Baton Rouge floods happened. I dove into that and found a niche.

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Vicki Johnson-Cain of Destrehan celebrates her riding success.

“I got to thinking about getting close to retirement, and I want to know I’m not going to be bored and will have things to do — to give back.”

Her current job as a barge dispatcher in Reserve gives her time to put to good use; she works 12-hour shifts, a week on and then a week off.

Behind the desire to give back and the need to fill her time in a constructive way, however, a link to William is almost always still part of her motivation.

“Interest in the animal shelter was from him,” she said. “He loved pit bulls, and I take to them at the shelter. We get a lot of those and they’re not easy to get adopted. I take those under wing.”

William also was a cyclist. “He used to be out all the time riding, and outside all the time.”

Johnson-Cain has been riding only a little before the challenge began in 2014. “One of the last things my son did for me was build my bike.” It’s not the one she rides now, but she still has it.

And channeling all that grief over William into the joy of helping others has indeed kept her busy.

“I’m almost too busy to work,” she said. “Some people call me the Energizer Bunny, but I tell people I’m running on Will power.”

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