Race ace Lee Johnston is inspired by his dad's cancer fight
Johnston's charity is taking off at great speed
He may be small in stature but is very much big in heart; that's Fermanagh road racing ace Lee Johnston, who is competing in today's six-lap TT Superbike race, which lifts the curtain on this year's Isle of Man TT Races.
The Maguiresbridge rider is one of pure road racing's brightest young talents, and having secured wins at last year's North West 200 and Ulster Grand Prix, not forgetting his debut Isle of Man TT podium, you would be forgiven for thinking the 27-year-old is riding the crest of life's wave.
Sadly, like most families these days, the East Coast Racing rider, who works and rides for team owner Phil Reed at East Coast Construction, has had to deal with the dreaded black cloud known as cancer, with it knocking on his father Everett's door over the past few years.
Despite his racing and work commitment, Johnston's self-confessed abhorrence for the disease saw him form his own cancer charity with the unique moniker, F13K Cancer.
Racing with the number 13 on his machinery, Johnston and his advisors decided to set a goal of £13,000 to raise during the 2015 season. But as we have come to expect with the happy-go-lucky racer, he normally raises the bar both on and off the track and his actual total was a staggering £17,000 when tallied up in December past.
At the time Johnston said: "One of the worst feelings in the world is not being able to help people close to your heart, so that's why I decided to set up F13K Cancer and raise money for Marie Curie - who provide support and care for people living with a terminal illness."
Speaking of his 'close to the knuckle' logo, Lee explained: "Some people might think the logo is rude or offensive, but when I think of cancer, the first thing I say is 'f13k cancer. So why not use that as a logo?"
Since that initial push, Johnston's charity has grown considerably, and for 2016 Lee and his small team have devised a larger footprint to push the product. They have devised an extended clothing range and an upcoming event at the Ulster Grand Prix in August, which he believes will take his charitable donations to a whole new level.
Speaking of his plans, the diminutive road racing star, said: "It amazes me that the whole thing has gathered so much momentum, but it also humbles me and again proves that road racing fans and the riders are the most generous sports people around."
Giving an insight to forecast total for 2016, he said: "We have raised to date around 30 grand. I'm now targeting £50,000 by the end of the year and why not? As I say, the whole thing has gathered so much momentum it would be a sin to stop at this stage. People ask me how long I'll keep it going and the simple answer is this: as long as people keep giving, and at the minute I can't see them stopping."
Praising his small team he said: "It's OK having these wonderful ideas but I have a man in the background who has all the technical knowledge and is in it for the same reason that I am, so thank you Stephen."
Looking ahead to his real job between the hedges, Lee is very much in the mix at this year's Isle of Man TT Races, despite making a return from injury after a crash at Scarborough's Spring Cup Meeting.
Before Friday he was at the summit of the TT Supersport class and he said: "Yeah the TT is going OK but I'm really hoping my dad can make it out here on Monday." He said his father was going through another bout of chemotherapy treatment just last week as he continues his fight against the aforementioned dreaded disease we all know in general terms as cancer.
Johnston has inherited his father's ever-present smile and propensity for a joke and a bit of banter, but it's down to serious business this week on Mona's Isle as the hat-trick man from last year's Ulster Grand Prix chases his debut win at the TT.
"I might have made the podium here last year, but I'm still learning the circuit," said Johnston, who set the fourth fastest time in the TT Superstock class last night with a lap of 128.607mph around the most arduous 37.73 miles of racing tarmac in the world.
Unlike many of his peers, Johnston isn't totally consumed by racing, and his day job with team owner Phil Reed - who he affectionately describes as, his second dad - keeps his feet firmly planted on the ground.
He also has another passion, and got to meet one of his heroes prior to this year's Vauxhall International North West 200, as he explained.
"I'm a massive boxing fan and got to spar with Carl Frampton for a TV feature prior to the NW200," said Johnston of unified Super-Bantamweight World Boxing champion Frampton from Tiger's Bay in Belfast.
"I might not look intelligent enough, but I also do like to read the odd book," chuckled Johnston in his usual wisecracking manner. "I like to read sporting autobiographies and I do go to watch quite a bit of boxing. So I suppose I can be classed as a real fan."
Johnston and his close mate Dean Harrison were once regarded as the contemporary playboys of the road racing paddock, but with Bradford ace Harrison now a doting dad, Lee has also fallen under the spell of an attractive young lady.
"I'm a mad cycling fan and as a selfish road racer. It's very hard trying to get a girlfriend to enjoy doing anything we do, but the missus enjoys a bit of mountain-biking like I do," said Johnston of the young lady he has become smitten with.
"She does live an hour away so I can get the head showered when I need to," he added with a grin, in an effort to extinguish the tangible love flames for his lovely girlfriend Christie.
Today on the Isle of Man, Christie will be by his side as he takes in the opening race of TT2016, and, God willing, his father Everitt will join them on Monday for a week of wise-cracking with his popular son - who has the TT fans smitten with his warm personality as well as his tangible prowess on track.