Comedian, author and artist Anh Do’s hugely popular series ‘Anh’s Brush with Fame’, last night featured Australian champion wheelchair racer and GC2018 Ambassador Kurt Fearnley in a fascinating episode of unwavering self-determination.
Do delved beneath the charming larrikin persona to capture something of the courage and determination that has seen Fearnley win gold medals at the Paralympic and Commonwealth Games to conquering the Kokoda trail.
Born with a congenital disorder called sacral agenesis which prevented fetal development in the lower portion of his spine, Fearnley quickly adapted to life in a chair and formed a ‘never say die’ attitude.
The youngest of five kids raised in a small country town of 200 people in central west New South Wales, Fearnley said he was never made to feel different, even when professionals tried to steer him away from mainstream schooling.
“My principle just refused to let that happen… he stood up for me when I couldn’t fight for myself,” he said.
“you’ve got to get people with disabilities as much as possible, next to their peers.
“when you’re one of 16 kids in a school, there’s no hiding… you don’t go to a sports carnival and sit on the sidelines,”
“… I went in every event.”
It was Mrs Dickson a Teacher at high school who saw Fearnley’s potential and desire to compete.
She introduced him to wheelchair racing, by putting his able-bodied family and peers in chairs as an experiment
“She brought out about 20 chairs and she showed me sport, sport’s even playing field,” Fearnley said.
“it was a phone call she made for someone, who was obviously wanting more.”
A teachers intuition which ultimately paid off – Fearnley’s list of sporting achievements are now extensive.
He has represented Australia in five Paralympics, two Commonwealth Games and many more World Championships with a bag of medals to prove it.
Fearnley considers himself ‘the luckiest guy in the world’ and credits his disability for his courage to adjust to whatever life has thrown at him.
“Strength isn’t your legs, strength isn’t your mobility, not the muscle around the bone – strength is your ability to be able to adapt and access your resilience,”
“That has been built in me, but I wouldn’t have got there unless I experienced life and the bumps and bruises that I have.”
A belief that paid dividends in 2009, when he conquered the treacherous 96-kilometre Kokoda Trail in 11 days, by crawling.
“One day on that track was as hard as anything I have ever done in my life… It was just damaging, every day you knew you had to rip yourself a part,”
“The worst part was stopping when I went to sleep… all the doubts, all the fear, all the caution would be there.
“It’s the constant battle of trying to drag the fear and the thoughts from being caution from being doubt to being that certainty – that it will happen.”
In 2010, Fearnley married his long term girlfriend Sheridan and four years later welcomed their first child, Harry – a moment he describes as ‘pivotal’.
“I got a lot more emotional I guess, everything’s more emotional,”
— Kurt Fearnley (@kurtfearnley) May 24, 2017
“One of the most enjoyable races was a win in the New York Marathon six-months after Harry was born. Sheridan and Harry were on the finish line waiting for us and it’s my favourite photo.”
“He’ll never remember it, I’ll never forget it.”
Do’s final painting encapsulated the strength and courage of a champion – watch the full episode on ABC iView.
Anh’s Brush with Fame, Wednesday, 8pm, ABC.