A Walk to Remember

November 3, 2022

In the hall of living legends, Penrith Panthers’ rugby league icon Royce Simmons is one who very much walks among us. In January 2022, at age 61, the original Brand Ambassador for The Royce disclosed he had been diagnosed with dementia the previous year. Tackling such a personal matter head-on came as a shock to many. But tough, no-nonsense bravery is the essence of ‘Simmo’, arguably the all-time favourite player to emerge from Panthers Stadium. Loyal, skilful, consistent; the tough-as-nails hooker served in more than 400 games for the club but remarkably his fight is just as strong today–even facing his ominous opponent in Alzheimer’s Disease.

“When I was first diagnosed, for a few months I was sitting around feeling sorry for myself,” Simmons says. “Then I remembered the things that people are doing to support their charities and I thought to myself let’s try and make this into something positive.” Facing his diagnosis in signature form, Simmons set his epic plan into motion: a 300km walk from his hometown of Gooloogong near Cowra, all the way into Bluebet Stadium, Penrith. And from May 17-26, the extraordinary journey of Royce’s Big Walk represented the achievement of a lifetime while raising more than $700,000 for Dementia Australia’s research programs.


Image Credit: CommBank Stadium


Royce Simmons, what an inspiration. Walking 300km for Royce’s Big Walk isn’t something you see every day…

“[Laughs] No, it isn’t, but the whole thing was actually quite enjoyable. I had good company along the way–some former rugby league teammates. We talked about the old times and so on… As we were walking along we had so much encouragement from people going past in cars and trucks tooting the horn and waving. People pulled over to make donations or see if we wanted a coffee. We had so much encouragement along the way so that made it enjoyable.”

How did you cope with the chilly conditions? You must have a survival mindset….

“Yeah, it was certainly chilly. But luckily, we avoided all the rain. But yes, was definitely chilly in the morning. For me, it’s always been just about preparation. Just make sure you are preparing for whatever’s in front of you, like with football. When you’ve got a tough game ahead, get prepared and do your homework. It’s the same with the walk. We made sure we put plenty of hours into planning and training especially for up through the Blue Mountains.”

Of course, the story behind Royce’s Big Walk is extremely personal. Did you plan to share your diagnosis publicly?

“No, I wasn’t going to, and I was probably going to keep it to myself. I didn’t want people treat me any different than what they have in the past. I wasn’t going to say anything except to the immediate family because they’re the ones in the long run who are going to care for you. Yeah, that’s what really worries you. The biggest worry is that they’re going to have to look after you when they could be doing other things.”

Was this worry the impetus to share your story?

“Yeah, certainly. You know, it’s about awareness. I think a lot of people are probably embarrassed about [Dementia], they’re pretty quiet about it at least at the start. I thought, well OK, as someone with a little bit of a profile I can probably bite the bullet here and that can really influence so many people outside myself.”

Speaking of influence, you’re the very popular Brand Ambassador for The Royce, Penrith. Can you tell us about that relationship?

“The relationship is outstanding. As a resident, I’m living in a place that is just first class. From the setup to the staff and the people who work there. It’s just a beautiful place to live with a lot of activities organised and a beautiful café. You can’t get any better. And you can just see the care in the people who work there and how passionate they are. I’m really proud to have my name next to it.”

Absolutely. Is living somewhere that delivers optimal health and wellbeing essential?

“The way I see it is, if I need to go to the care sector then it’s there for me. This is such a relief–I need to know that I’ll be looked after well, and my family can have some time where they can go and do things on their own and, you know, not have to always be with you–that sort of thing. To me, that’s quality of life.”

Tell me about the community vibe at The Royce…

“That’s what’s so good about it. I mean, you live there mixed in with so many good new friends you just haven’t met yet. You can go down and mix through so many different activities. You’re always around good people and there’s always a trip or an adventure to be had.”

Where to from here, Royce? You must be proud of this amazing achievement…

“I am. I have so much respect for people who are going through Dementia and I want to do whatever I can to raise money and be open about about what I’m going through if it can help someone. I want to raise more money for research and hopefully I’m still okay to do it all again next year. It depends on how I’m travelling, so we’ll just see what happens!”


To learn more about Royce’s Big Walk, or to make a donation to the cause, please visit: https://roycesbigwalk.com.au/donate/

You can also make a donation to Dementia Australia here: https://www.dementia.org.au/make-donation