By Luke Voogt
John Olsen has walked 20,000km to fight leukodystrophy and plans to walk 5000 more after becoming one of 12 Geelong Queen’s Birthday honour recipients.
The Belmont resident is planning his fourth and “final” trek across Australia from Cape Londonderry to Cape Howe in 2022 having already raised $210,000 in past walks.
“This will be the shortest walk I’ve done,” the 67-year-old said.
“There’s one more diagonal out there waiting and I don’t want to be in the nursing home wishing I had done it.
“Initially I said, ‘I’ll wait until I’m 70 and see how I’m doing.’ But now I’ve got my new knee in that’s working great I’ve made my decision already.”
John celebrated the medal with family and friends at home on Sunday.
“For a person that doesn’t party very often it was pretty full on,” he said.
Lifelong friend Brian Edwards nominated John for the award but he had no idea despite his “pretty well-honed bulls..t meter”.
Fellow Order of Australia Medal recipient Sister Julie Thomas, who has leukodystrophy and helps others with the degenerative brain disease, seconded that nomination.
“She never let on either,” John said.
“She’s a bit of a living saint in my eyes – she knew my late partner quite well.”
John began walking across Australia for kids with cerebral palsy and his partner Vida Brazionis, who in 2014 lost her battle with leukodystrophy.
Vida, not wanting to burden John with her care, broke up with him in 2003 before his first walk from Cape York to Tasmania, he revealed.
“She had actually nursed her younger brother through the same illness, so she knew what was ahead.”
But they got back together after the months-long walk and John eventually became her carer.
“I’d fallen madly in love with her and I think she realised I was fair dinkum and wouldn’t give up,” John said.
John has pulled his specially-equipped walking cart across sand dunes and through Aboriginal communities while growing a “long white beard“.
“They have great respect for anyone over the age of 60 and I well-and-truly fit that bill!”
He even survived a run-in with a territorial camel on his second walk in 2008/2009.
“I hadn’t had a wash for 33 days and I probably smelt like a camel myself, so it tried to have a go at me,” he said.
“I became an instant legend among my grandsons.“
He limped through the latter part of his third walk from Cape York to Western Australia’s Cape Leeuwin with a bad knee and hiatal hernia in 2017.
John then told the Indy the walk would be his last, before a successful knee operation in 2018 changed his mind.
He hopes his new OAM will help raise him raise even more money for Australian Lions Children’s Mobility Foundation and Leukodystrophy Australia.
John found his himself in honourable company on Monday with fellow Geelong OAM recipients Alwyn Blackwell, Frank De Rosso, Clare Gray, Peter Maishman, Patti Manolis, Elizabeth North, Robert Flynn, Paul Smart, Lynden Smith and Tony Strahan.
Lara’s Ray Baird won a Public Service Medal for his work in the Victorian health sector.