Three-time Australian Paralympic Gold Medallist, author, and disability advocate Kurt Fearnley has been awarded the NSW Australian of the Year for 2019 and took to the stage with an emotional and heartfelt acceptance speech.
Living in Newcastle, Mr Fearnley has a successful history in wheelchair racing having won the men’s marathon T54 at the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games in April, but is also a passionate disability advocate, currently a board member of the Australian Paralympic Committee and previously sitting on the National Disability Insurance Scheme’s Independent Advisory Council, the board of Australian Volunteers International and the Australia Day Council of NSW.
In his speech Mr Fearnley reflected beyond the race wins, acknowledging the moments and people who helped him become one of the nation’s most renowned disability athletes.
“I’m a proud Australian. I am a proud man with disability. I am grateful that I have had the privilege to wear the green and gold for 20 years now,” he says.
With his medal collection now sitting in a Huggies box in his kids room, Mr Fearnley describes the moments behind the glorifying feeling of crossing the finish line first.
“You see the moments where my Dad found me crawling around the fields playing footy while he watched the Aus Day 10km on Australia Day and he saw these gladiators in wheelchairs and he picked me up off the footy field and ran me inside and showed me what was out there for me.”
“I see a principal who demanded that I would receive public education and fought for me and my family when we didn’t even know a fight was there.”
“I see a teacher that whispered to me that ‘I was more than a HSC mark,’ that the desire you can build in a person is the most valuable thing that’s there.”
“I see a coach who told me he thought I could be the best in the world and he was willing to take every single step with me.”
“I see person after person that invested with me through kindness and love and generosity.”
“A town of 200 who bought me my first wheelchair when my family begged for them not to – they said ‘stay out of it, it’s between us and the boy’.”
“I am the culmination of generous moment after generous moment and that is the glue that holds this country together.’
“I will take every one of these generous moments that people have bombarded on me and I will carry them down to Canberra on Australia Day and I will cautiously represent every single one of those people and every single one of those moments.”
A proud husband and father, Mr Fearnley also thanked his family for their support.
“Thank you to every single person who has carried me for the last 37 years, but specifically the 25 where I have had the pleasure to represent this country and I feel absolutely overwhelmed with privilege to represent my state down in Canberra on the 25th of January.”
This nomination comes after Mr Fearnley became the first athlete with a disability to win Sport Australia Hall of Fame’s prestigious Don award last month.
Supporters took to Twitter to congratulate the well-deserved nominee.
“You’re a remarkable man Kurt and it’s an honour to call myself an Australian when we as a country have people like you representing us. You’re a worthy recipient of every plaudit that comes your way. You make us all want to be the best versions of ourselves. Legend,” Kane Ransley comments.
“OMG, if this is how you give an unprepared speech, Kurt, never, ever prepare. Spine tingling, inspirational, humble, powerful, grateful, gracious and decent. #ALivingLegend #KurtForPM,” Sandra Lee says.
“I see a worthy winner. I see a humble man. I see a great Australian. I can see a future PM,” Glenn Gibson posts.
Mr Fearnley will travel to Canberra on Australia Day for the Australian of the Year award ceremony.