Veteran wheelchair racer Kurt Fearnley AO has created history becoming the first para athlete to win the coveted ‘The Don’ Award at the 34th Sport Australia Hall of Fame Induction and Awards Gala Dinner in Melbourne on Thursday.
In what was his fourth time named as a finalist for ‘The Don’ Award, the NSWIS Scholarship Holder was judged to have most ‘inspired the nation’ in 2018.
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 (NSWIS), outgoing Kookaburras hockey captain Mark Knowles OAM and inspirational para-triathlete Lauren Parker (NSWIS).
“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.”