Kurt Fearnley creates history with ‘The Don’ Award as the late Richie Benaud is elevated to Legend on a marvellous night for Australian sport
Veteran wheelchair racer Kurt Fearnley AO has created history becoming the first athlete with a disability to win the coveted ‘The Don’ Award, as the late cricketing great Richie Benaud OBE was posthumously elevated to become the 40th Legend of Australian Sport at the 34th Sport Australia Hall of Fame Induction and Awards Gala Dinner in Melbourne on Thursday.
The night also saw eight of the nation’s most celebrated sportspeople inducted as Members, and five young athletes were named as participants in our 2019 Scholarship and Mentoring Program as the Sport Australia Hall of Fame honoured the past, celebrated the present and embraced the future of Australian sport.
Socceroos star Harry Kewell joined icon of Australian touring car racing Allan Moffat OBE, Australia’s first professional world surfing champion Wendy Botha, durable rugby league champion Darren Lockyer, four-time Olympic medallist Drew Ginn OAM and women’s basketball pioneer Robyn Maher AM and as newly inducted Athlete Members.
Receiving recognition from their role in sport as General Members were much-loved horse trainer Gai Waterhouse and Commonwealth Games and weightlifting administrator Sam Coffa AM.
Sport Australia Hall of Fame chairman John Bertrand AO said the theme for the gala, ‘Stars of the Southern Cross’ was appropriate, as it describes how our Hall of Fame recognises Australians as a collective across the vast range of sports.
“We are proud that this event is now renowned as Australian sport’s ‘Night of Nights’,” Bertrand said.
“Representing all sporting codes and Olympic disciplines, and on and off the field achievers, the Sport Australia Hall of Fame is unique worldwide. We take pride in our role. We want both young and old to better understand the true “essence of sport” when the game is played in a fair way, no matter if it is a local football match or the Olympic Games.”
Fearnley becomes first athlete with a disability to win ‘The Don’ Award
In what was his fourth time named as a finalist for ‘The Don’ Award, wheelchair racer Kurt Fearnley was judged to have most ‘inspired the nation’ in 2018 and becomes the first athlete with a disability to win Australia’s leading contemporary sport award.
Fearnley nudged out a star-studded list of athletes including motor sport stars Daniel Ricciardo and Indianapolis 500 victor Will Power, Matilda’s international goalscoring machine Sam Kerr, record-breaking cricketer Ellyse Perry, wheelchair racing champion Madison de Rozario, outgoing Kookaburras hockey captain Mark Knowles OAM and inspirational para-triathlete Lauren Parker.
“I am honoured by ‘The Don’ Award and I will do my best to be worthy of it,” Fearnley said in his stirring acceptance speech.
“I recognise that I am the first within the Paralympic movement to receive this award. I am incredibly grateful to have been given this opportunity, and I guarantee I will not be the last.”
“I grew up with an understanding about The Don and it is as much about integrity and humility as it is about excellence in sport. And I recognise tonight that I am the first within our Paralympic movement to hold up this prestigious award, but I have no intention of self-congratulation, I have to point back behind me to the generations of proud men and women with disabilities who allowed me to become the person and athlete that you see fit to receive this award.”
“We need every person within this room to embrace our community of people with disabilities, not only on the sporting field but within administration, in executive and within board and in governance roles,” Fearnley said in the recorded message, unavailable on the night as he was racing in the Chicago Marathon.
The 37-year-old from Newcastle captured the nation’s hearts earlier this year at the Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games with two superb performances in what was to be his swansong performance in Australian colours – gold in the marathon on the road and silver in the 1500m on the track.
Fearnley’s inspirational attitude contributed more to the image of the event than any other competitor and as a role model for the historic inclusivity of the Games he was honoured with selection as Australian Team Flag Bearer for the Closing Ceremony.
His performances set a standard of determination for people with and without disabilities.
Reflecting on his marathon triumph, Fearnley said he still believes it was one of the greatest moments of his life.
“I couldn’t have finished my career any better,” he said.
“I received so much from my sport, I received so much from wearing the green and gold and I don’t have any more to give. It was the perfect moment for me to call it a day.”
A three-time Paralympic gold medallist who has won marathons all around the world, Fearnley remains as humble as ever in receiving ‘The Don’ Award, named in honour of the late Sir Donald Bradman AC.
“I’m a true believer in the power of sport. I heard stories about Donald Bradman from the moment I crawled out of my cot. Obviously that one person has left a gigantic impact on this country, not just because of his excellence in the game, his humility, his kindness. You do see that, you just try not to think about it too much because it can get a little bit overwhelming. For me when I think about my impact on the community, I think that I met the challenge and pushed and progressed it.”