I first met Kurt Fearnley as a young university graduate in my first job with Wheelchair Sports NSW. Kurt was fourteen at the time - a loveable larrikin with a heart as big as Phar Lap and a smile that could light up the world.
The Fearnleys are a naturally gifted sporting family and the kid from Carcoar was good at everything. As the Sports Development Officer, I had many coaches chasing Kurt, as his potential was obvious from an early age. Kurt fittingly pursued a path in athletics, which later lead to the marathon. This grueling event is very symbolic of Kurt’s life.
I was extremely fortunate that my involvement with the Paralympic movement and Kurt’s support crew, meant that I was trackside during Kurt’s early career highlights. No other sporting moment has given me the overwhelming sense of Aussie pride than Kurt winning his first Paralympic medal in Sydney in 2000, and then his first gold medal in Athens in 2004. These days I support Kurt from afar, but his recent triumphs still conjure up those same old feelings and goose bumps.
Kurt wears his heart on his sleeve and that is one of the many reasons why I, and the rest of Australia has a whole has fallen in love with him. He’s a genuine country fella with morals and humility that every mother wishes their children will possess. It is these qualities that make him a great leader. He has made people stop and think and what they can do to improve opportunities for people with disabilities, whether it is in their workplace, school or community club. He is a leader of change and whilst the progression towards inclusion isn’t happening as quick as he’d like, the change is happening.
There have been athletes before Kurt, like the incredible Louise Sauvage who also fought so fiercely for inclusion and equal opportunities for people with disabilities. It has been a long hard slog, just like marathon we saw Kurt win at the Commonwealth Games on Sunday. The progress has been slow and steady, but what did they say about the tortoise?
Kurt doesn’t appreciate being referred to as inspirational, but he and other Paralympians have certainly inspired me to be a better person and create a more inclusive community – www.onecommunity.net.au