Penrith Panthers 1991 Grand Final hero Royce Simmons has confirmed he has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.
It comes as he prepares to announce a major fundraising walk from his hometown of Goolagong to Penrith for Dementia Australia.
He’ll officially announce the walk at a media conference this afternoon.
In an interview with journalist Neil Cadigan, published on the Penrith Panthers website today, Simmons said he had brain scans after a confusing incident involving a bottle of wine and a bag of ice.
“The doctor said, ‘You told me you’d had a few concussions over the years; there are a couple of white marks which may have been from the concussions,’ and I’m thinking, ‘That’s good; just a couple of marks from concussions’,” Simmons said.
“Then he pointed to another part of the brain and said, ‘Around here, that’s all Alzheimer’s’. It was like someone had knocked me off my feet. The rest of the appointment is just a blur; I was so shocked, even though in the back of my mind I was worried something might show up.”
61-year-old Simmons is one of Penrith’s favourite sons and scored two tries to help the club to its maiden Premiership in 1991. He returned after his playing career for a long stint in the coach’s box.
Simmons is obviously aware that some may jump to conclusions and directly link his condition with concussions he suffered during his playing career but he says he has been given no evidence about the specific cause of his dementia.
And that’s the most pertinent point of Simmons going public with his condition. The cause, he says, is inconsequential.
What matters most to Simmons is shining a light on the impact of the insidious disease, particularly on the loved ones of those who are diagnosed.
Simmons said telling his wife Leanne of the diagnosis was extremely tough.
“I walked through the door, looked at Leanne and just sort of lost it,” he recalled.
“But, just like I thought she’d be, Leanne has been really strong and really supportive. She’s been wonderful, keeping me in check with my routine without ever being over the top.
“I told our kids next, which was hard obviously. That’s a big thing for me; I’m more worried about the people who look after me. I don’t want Leanne wasting ten to fifteen years of her life because of my condition, or the kids coming to see me and feeling down because of what I’m like.
“It’s that sort of condition; you have all the stats about people who suffer from dementia or die from it but you’ve got to multiply that by 10 or 20 people who suffer as well alongside them.
“I want to help raise money for research as a mark of respect for the medical people who have worked so hard find a cure or a successful treatment and all those people who suffer watching a loved one go down the path of losing who they once were.”
Royce’s Big Walk will start in the Central NSW village of Gooloogong on Tuesday, May 17 and see Simmons power his way through almost 300 kilometres of walking in 10 days.
He plans to cross the finish line at BlueBet Stadium in Penrith on Friday May 27, just in time for kick-off in the Panthers NRL game against North Queensland Cowboys.
With dementia the second leading cause of death of Australians, all funds raised through Royce’s Big Walk will be used by Dementia Australia on vital medical research.
“I want to help raise money for research as a mark of respect for the medical people who have worked so hard find a cure or a successful treatment and all those people who suffer watching a loved one go down the path of losing who they once were,” Simmons said.
All donations are tax deductible and can be made on the Royce’s Big Walk event page: http://www.memorywalk.com.au/Royces-Big-Walk.
Troy Dodds is the Weekender’s Managing Editor and Senior Writer. He has more than 20 years experience as a journalist, working with some of Australia’s leading media organisations.