Kurt Fearnley named 2019 NSW Australian of the Year
Adding to an already daunting list of lifetime accomplishments, Kurt Fearnley was named the 2019 NSW Australian of the Year on Monday night. The 37 year old champion athlete and disability advocate retired from international wheelchair racing this year, after an illustrious career spanning 25 years.
Graduating as a teacher in 2005 Fearnley dedicated his life to racing and advocating for people with a disability, but his passion for teaching never went away. Now that his days of international racing are behind him, Fearnley says his main goal is to return to teaching and to give back to the community.
“From here I have the next few months to contemplate what being NSW Australian of the Year means, but foremost my goal is teaching,” Fearnley said in an interview with the ABC.
“Not only sport, but education is a pathway to improve people’s lives all over the world.”
Born with lumbar sacral agenesis - missing parts of his spine and sacrum – Fearnley has amassed an impressive collection of medals and titles including three gold, seven silver and three bronze across five Paralympic Games, multiple world titles, three golds and three silvers at the Commonwealth Games and 35 marathon wins across 10 countries. But as he accepted his Australian of the Year award, Fearnley made clear what moments had stuck with him the most.
“When I look back you don’t see the race wins, you don’t see the medals. The medals are sitting in a Huggies box in my kid’s room.
“I see a principal who demanded that I received 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 an HSC mark. That the desire you can build in a person is the most valuable thing that’s there,” he said in an emotional acceptance speech.
As well as his new title as 2019 NSW Australian of the Year, Fearnley was appointed an Officer of the Order of Australia (AO) this year, for his distinguished service to people with a disability, as well as his fundraising efforts with regards to Indigenous athletics and charitable organisations. He was also awarded Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM) in 2005.
Watch his acceptance speech here.