John Olsen became the only person in history to walk unaided across Australia thrice. The grandfather of nine walked 5,622km in 2004, from north to south, then 7,500km in 2008, west to east. All this in the space of four gruelling years. He was a member and supported by Lions Club of Corio Bay Geelong.
His story of surviving the wilderness, lightning strikes and dust storms, the outback, rogue animals, isolation and his own mental demons was one that became part of Australia folklore. His relationship with the popular Macca from Australia All Over was his continual guidance. His amazing feat was equally matched by his ability to defeat twenty years of alcoholism.
It was not John’s intention the first walk be a fundraiser, but people along the way, wanted to give him money, and asked what charity he was supporting. John then came to the realisation he could accept donations and be of service to the children supported by the Australian Lions Children’s Mobility Foundation (ALCMF), and that his willingness to walk could help children suffering cerebral palsy and who lacked any form of mobility. As many donations were also made by Lions Clubs direct to ALCMF it is estimated $10,000 – $12,000 was raised arising from Long Walk No. 1.
In middle age, John met the love his life, Vida Brazionis who was suffering from a rare and life-threatening disease – Leukodystrophy. He eventually lived with her as her Carer until she passed away in 2014.
John expressed the view “The purpose of my next solo walk across Australia is twofold. First, it is an attempt to break the existing record of 115 days set by Tom Hallyar in 1978. Second and foremost, is my endeavour to persuade every Lion in Australia to play a small part by helping to raise $200,000 shared equally by the Australian Lions Children’s Mobility Foundation and the Australian Leukodystrophy Support Group Inc. I know about Leukodystrophy because my partner is a suffer”. Long Walk No. 2 was born.
In the years preceding 2015, John expressed an intention to undertake Long Walk No 3. Late 2015 John experienced an accidental fall, which injured his left knee and required surgery. In the early months of 2016 he continued to limp awkwardly – this did not stop him from departing Geelong with his friends Brian and Yvonne Edward who drove him to the tip of Cape York. They arrived 3 April 2016. The slow healing knee resulted in what John now describes as a “limp across Australia” and his journey of 5182km was extended from an anticipated 5 months to 9 months before eventually reaching Cape Leeuwin and then walking north to Perth. Donations including a Lions Club fundraising dinner raised $72,500 for Leukodystrophy Australia.
Long Walk No. 4? It would be reasonable to say John’s three long walks totalling approx. 17,000km have demonstrated a commitment to help disabled and seriously ill children; the overall distance is likely to exceed the records of a multitude of other people who have similarly fundraised by walking, running, bicycle and pushing wheelbarrows around Australia. His grit and endurance leave friends, supporters and strangers alike in awe of his mental and physical determination to attain goals and to help others. His physical strength and indeed his ability to endure pain and hardship during some periods of his long distance walking tell us a lot about his commitment to help those less fortunate. It is there attributes, which influenced Leukodystrophy Australia to nominate John for consideration of recognition by way of an Order of Australia. Moreover, together with the Lions Club of Geelong Corio Bay, we succeeded.
Congratulations John – you are a hero of the highest standing!