By LIAM BLAND
Lars Olsen is yet to find his limit.
The Hervey Bay triathlete coach has taken on challenges others wouldn’t dare – in the water, on the mountains, and in the boardroom. Olsen, 37, started swimming at a local pool when he was 12, where he was spotted by the coach of the Hervey Bay swimming team. That moment was the catalyst for a lifetime of boundary-pushing.
“He just said come and join the squad and I did… he taught me a few things, and I just enjoyed pushing the limits to see how far I could go, and challenging myself,” Olsen says. “I think from then it was just something inside that continually enjoys a challenge.”
And enjoy a challenge, Olsen certainly does. His most recent was a 20km swim around Great Keppel Island. Olsen placed third in the six-hour swim, finishing only behind two world-record holders. Olsen says he was in so much pain, he screamed underwater for most of the race. Still, he never stopped.
“Everyone has a perceived boundary, or a perceived point where they think that’s it,” Olsen says. “I always wanted to see where my limit is… that boundary, that ceiling. I haven’t found it yet.”
Olsen’s life changed course when he visited Nepal as a 21-year-old. The bright-eyed and blonde-haired adventurer from Hervey Bay pushed his limits further than ever before when he climbed one of Mount Everest’s peaks.
“We didn’t have the right equipment, I got frost bite… I probably should’ve died a couple of times on that particular trip,” he says.
Olsen lost feeling in most of his limbs, and struggled to breathe for hours, but still, he recalls being one of the lucky ones on the climb.
“There was this American guy I was climbing with, and we had these Sherpas cook us dinner high in the mountains one night,” he says. “I was vegetarian at the time, so I had a veggie stew, while this other guy had tuna in his. What we didn’t realise was that the can of tuna these Sherpas used was ten years out of date – he was sick for days!”
Remarkably, climbing to one of the highest points in the world was not the most challenging part of Olsen’s trip to South Asia. Olsen spent months volunteering at schools and orphanages in Kathmandu, and in one particular orphanage, he made an upsetting discovery.
“A few months in, I became aware that a group of girls that I’d been working with were being molested by the board members [of the orphanage],” he says. “It started me thinking, can I do more than I’m currently doing?”
Olsen decided he wanted to help. He returned to Australia, and within nine months, had established his own charity. Forget Me Not was formed to provide Nepalese girls with an education and a safe space to live. In recent years, the charity has shifted its focus to reuniting children with their families in third world countries.
Olsen’s achievements through Forget Me Not saw him awarded the coveted Pride of Australia Medal in 2006, and he was named Young Queenslander of the Year in 2007. Olsen has since stepped away from Forget Me Not, and now runs B Mee Multisport, a coaching service for aspiring athletes and those recovering from injury. Aside from competing in a few triathlons later this year, Olsen says he isn’t planning his next big adventure just yet. For now, he plans on growing his business and spending more time with his wife and five children – which is, itself, a challenge for most.
“I’m just looking to rein it in, just a little bit, and focus on the family, on the business,” he says.
However, for a man who spends little time in comfort zones, it is surely only a matter of time before Olsen attempts his next big feat.