It’s not only his remarkable sporting career that makes Kurt Fearnley an extraordinary human being. His advocacy work for people with disabilities is evidence of the passion, determination and dedication that make him a true champion in more ways than one.
Walkers on the Fernleigh Track are used to seeing Kurt whiz past them on one of his early morning training sessions. The four-time Paralympian, originally from Carcoar in the Central West of New South Wales, is happy to call Newcastle home.
Born in 1981 missing the lower portion of his spine, Kurt was not expected to live out the month. But Kurt and his parents defied the diagnosis. Raised simply as the youngest son in a family of five children who loved sport, Kurt spent his childhood “fishing, rabbiting, swimming and finding trees that I could climb – and more often than not – fall out of.”
On 23 January, Kurt gave the 2013 Australia Day Address at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music.
Aptly it was while watching the Oz Day 10km wheelchair race in the early 1990s that Kurt first became aware of the sport that has become such a huge part of his life. “I knew that I wanted to be on that start line. I had to be in that race,” Kurt says in his address.
In 1996 Kurt competed in the Oz Day 10km for the first time, providing the springboard for his racing career. Kurt has since competed at four consecutive Paralympics winning three gold, six silver and two bronze medals. The winner of six world titles at the IPC Athletics World Championships, Fearnley has also taken line honours, plus an additional ten podium finishes, from the 43 marathon races he has looked to conquer.
In addition to his illustrious sporting career, Kurt represents a number of organisations and is an ambassador of the Day of Difference Foundation and International Day of People with a Disability, and a board member of Australian Volunteers International. In 2009 he was recognised as the 2009 New South Wales Young Australian of the Year and in 2012 he received the Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM) for service to sport as a Gold Medallist at the Athens 2004 Paralympics.
In 2009 Kurt spent eleven days crawling the gruelling Kokoda Track in Papua New Guinea with a group of family and friends to raise awareness for men’s health groups Movember and Beyond Blue. In his Australia Day Address Kurt praised local porters for their support, as well as acknowledging the legacy of the Australian soldiers who supported each other on the arduous track during World War Two.
“Support, whether from family, corporates, media or sporting bodies has helped build me as an athlete and as a disabled citizen, but the linchpin for the advancement of life as a person with a disability in Australia is the support of government through programs and funding.”
In the Address Kurt highlights that living with a disability in Australia “isn’t rosy compared to the rest of the world” and that we could do more to provide “fairness, facilitation, choice and inclusion” as he called on Australians to get behind services such as the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) that will be trialled in Newcastle and the Hunter from July this year.
Kurt is a champion in every sense of the word.
Image credit: Michael Kennedy Photography.