After 18 years competing at the pinnacle of his sport, Kurt Fearnley’s legacy boiled down to just over 90 minutes. Ninety minutes of excruciating, lung-busting pain. It was the men’s T54 marathon at this year’s Gold Coast Commonwealth Games and his final race wearing the green and gold. Exhausted but triumphant, the 13-time Paralympic medallist would cross the finish line in first place, bringing his already-illustrious career to the only conclusion it deserved. “I have received so much from so many people,” he said, minutes after the race. “And all you can do is really try and give back and that was an hour and 30 of giving back. That hurt mate, I have got nothing else.” Today, however, Kurt Fearnley is going to be late. We’re set to meet at the Olympic Park in West Sydney but the teacher from Carcour has driven from Newcastle and, as he explains, it’s a nightmare finding parking. He may be a few minutes away but Fearnley’s presence is already felt inside the New South Wales Institute of Sport where our conversation is due to take place. It’s a gym built for function over style. A place marked by the sweat and the sacrifices and the daily grind of athletes like Kurt Fearnley. And Fearnley, having been competing as a wheelchair racer for the best part of 20 years, has made more than his share of sacrifices. “Yeah, we all know Kurt here,” says the gym’s manager, as the recent recipient of the Don Award makes his way into the gym. This should come as no surprise: having been to every Olympics since Sydney 2000, Fearnley now takes his place on the long list of Aussie sporting greats. Alongside the Cathy Freemans and Ian Thorpes he’s become a symbol of Australian pride – the boy from a small town in central New South Wales, who defied expectations to become one of the country’s greatest-ever Olympians. “You realise the wins and losses all blur into one,” says Fearnley looking back, his powerful arms lying nimbly by the side of his chair as we talk. “But, the reason I had a good crack for such a long period of time is because I invested a lot in belief.” He comes back to this sense of unwavering self-belief during our conversation. Rather than any prodigious talent or expert coaching, Fearnley’s story is a simple one; borne of the courage and determination instilled in him during his youth. He didn’t know it at the time but with the backing of his hometown, Fearnley was building the sort of self-confidence that breeds champions. There were no facilities like the one we’re in today, where, as a youngster, he could hone his racing technique; there was barely even any concrete on which to use a wheelchair. But the support Fearnley received was more profound than any material backing. “They gave me value; they gave me strength; they gave me the ability to speak to them as my peers and to be comfortable with not only being me but also receiving a little help along the way.” If Fearnley needed help getting off the mark, it wasn’t long before he was dominating on his own. After being a “terrible” junior (his words) it was in his early twenties he started to reap the rewards of his hard work. Two silvers at Sydney 2000 in front of 118,000 screaming Aussies would trigger an onslaught of awards and achievements. Competing in the T54 classification he has won seven world championships, the first in ’06; has taken gold three times at the Paralympics, two in the marathon and one in the 5000m; as well as winning 35 marathons across 10 countries. Announcing his retirement from all track events following his legendary win at the Comm Games in April, he did so with a list of accomplishments unrivalled by any of his peers. As our time with Fearnley draws to a close, we’re readying to leave as he’s settling in. He may be exhausted following an event the previous night than overran, but the Chicago marathon is less than a month away and there’s work to be done. We say our goodbyes as he straps himself into his race chair. Head down, eyes forward, he begins. Nothing fancy to see here, just an ordinary bloke with the self-belief to inspire a nation.