Walking 300 km in just 11 days, league great Royce (Simmo) Simmons has raised more than $650,000 to support the Dementia Australia Research Foundation (DARF), exceeding his initial goal of $500,000.
During the highly-publicised walk from his hometown of Gooloogong in the NSW Central West, Royce passed through towns including Cowra, Blayney, Bathurst, Lithgow and Katoomba on his way to Penrith’s Bluebet Stadium, home of his beloved Penrith Panthers rugby league club.
And although he served Penrith in more than 400 games – 237 as a player over 12 seasons and 187 as a coach for eight – he never forgot where he first pulled on his boots in regional Australia. Nor did those communities who turned out in droves to greet him and his fellow trekkers.
Earlier this year, Royce publicly revealed that he had been diagnosed with younger onset Alzheimer’s disease at age 61.
He was inspired to take on the challenge of generating awareness of dementia and raise much needed funds for research into the disease.
From 17 May, Royce was joined by several fellow Aussie sporting heroes including Wally Lewis, Trevor Gillmeister, Brad Fittler, Allan Langer, Greg Alexander, Kurt Fearnley and more as he clocked up the kilometres east and over the Blue Mountains.
Along the route, he conducted fundraising initiatives and held events to support local junior Rugby League clubs.
But the money kept rolling in on the Great Western Highway, with passing motorists stopping to donate and householders walking to the end of their driveways to urge him on. And he always stopped for selfies.
Former Panthers chairman Barry Walsh, who acted as a volunteer support crew driver, said Simmo had only walked half the kilometres.
“He’s had to run the other half because he stopped for photos with everyone and then had to run like buggery to catch up,” he said.
Royce ultimately crossed the finish line in Penrith on Friday 27 May, just in time to see his beloved Panthers kick-off against the North Queensland Cowboys.
And how were his legs after the journey? “Short and fat like they always were,” he said.
But he also said that raising awareness of dementia – in every person he met on the road or stood with in the stadium – was what it was all about.
Dementia Australia CEO Maree McCabe AM said Royce’s commitment to completing the incredible fundraising challenge had been truly inspiring.
“I extend my sincere thanks and appreciation to Royce for everything he has done,” Ms McCabe said.
“Royce has displayed generosity and courage by sharing his story to raise awareness and has helped raise vital funds to support the important work of the Dementia Australia Research Foundation.
“Congratulations Royce on completing this incredible walk. It’s an outstanding achievement and your endeavours will make a difference to the lives of Australians impacted by dementia, now and long into the future.
“My thanks to Royce’s many supporters, the Penrith Panthers, the communities along the route who turned out to cheer him on and everyone who donated and supported this incredible challenge.”
Donations can still be made via the Royce’s Big Walk website.