Tiktoker breaks treadmill, hits over seven million likes, raises $9K for Steptember

By Candice Luke

Photo / Supplied - Summer, River and Trae Judd (Summer Judd's Instagram).

By Candice Luke, Te Rito journalism cadet.

Melbourne-based Sāmoan social media creator, Thomas Pepa, has taken his push to grow awareness of a debilitating condition to the next level on Tiktok. 

He’s raised $9000 in support of his nephew River and others living with cerebral palsy.

Pepa walked non-stop for 24 hours on Tiktok live, reaching an audience of 247,000 worldwide. In the final 30 seconds of the challenge, his treadmill suddenly broke down, sending supporters and viewers into a frenzy.

@tommy_hanma 124.9km walked / 24hours non stop /$9.1k raised /139,599 steps #motivation #success #mindset #cyberpunk ♬ I Really Want to Stay at Your House - Rosa Walton & Hallie Coggins

Thomas makes it to the end! Credit: TikTok / tommy_hanma

“When it stopped it was like slow motion. I looked at my wife and just started running. I had a pump of adrenaline… I was overwhelmed with emotion and started to tear up,” says the Aoteroa expatriate.

This is Pepa’s second year supporting River for Steptember, an initiative to raise funds and awareness for people living with cerebral palsy, the most common physical disability in childhood.  

River was born during the Covid-19 lockdown in October 2020, at 36 weeks. Doctors told his family that he had severe cerebral palsy but only time would tell how it would affect his life.

River’s dad, Trae Judd, was present at the end of the 24 hours with a feast ready, while other family members offered massages, and brought ice for his recovery.

“When you have close friends and they have family members going through things, you know, that's what friends are for. To help and give back. This happens to be how I can do that. It doesn’t cost anything, just my health.”

Pepa doesn’t consider himself a fitness influencer, though he promotes a healthy lifestyle online. 

“They sell products, supplements, things like that. I don’t. I'm glad to document this part of my life as someone who's chosen to prioritise health now. I'm the healthiest I've been,” the 27-year-old cable technician says. 

Married with three kids, two jobs, and travelling two hours to and from work every day, when it comes to fitness and nutrition Pepa says, “I’m just an everyday person. You can do it too.”

Cerebral palsy (CP) is the most common physical disability for children in Aotearoa and Australia, affecting one in every 500 Kiwi babies and one person is diagnosed every 20 hours over the ditch. 

To learn more about cerebral palsy and see Pepa’s fundraising efforts, head to the Steptember website. To support River, follow his mum on Instagram.