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.

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