KURT Fearnley might joke about using his ‘ugly mug’ to help champion the disability community, but the star wheelchair racer takes his bid to create awareness just as seriously as pushing for glory.
It is why when Carcoar native Fearnley was appointed an Officer of the Order of Australia as part of the Queen’s Birthday honours on Monday, it was a much welcomed news.
Typically Fearnley played down his latest honour – he was also awarded with a Medal of the Order of Australia 2005 – which was for ‘distinguished service to people with a disability, as a supporter of, and fundraiser for, Indigenous athletics and charitable organisations, and as a Paralympic athlete.’
“I’m never someone to feel like I really deserve it - I race wheelchairs and I do this thing that I love,” Fearnley told AAP.
“And you try and give purpose to the racing, to contribute to the community ... and have conversations around disability.
“I hope I can earn this honour, because at the moment I feel I’ve had too much fun to consider the last couple of decades work.
“I do believe that when you get given these moments you embrace them and work your arse off to try and make sure that you earn it.”
When Fearnley enjoyed “moments” at the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games in April, he demonstrated why he has become such a respected figure.
Not only did he push his way to the first men’s T4 marathon gold medal ever offered at a Commonwealth Games, snare silver in the men’s 1,500 metres event and carry the Australian flag at the closing ceremony, he took the chance to promote the the cause of people with disability.
“I’ve been put in this amazing position of privilege which I am extremely grateful for and I’ve just got to say there are a lot of people out there with disabilities that haven’t been given the privilege I have,” Fearnley said after his final track appearance in the green and gold.
Now 37, Fearnley has retired from racing for his country. He won Paralympic Games, Commonwealth Games and World Championship gold while representing Australia.
But he knows his legacy is about more than medals.
“I am proud to be a part of, and need to recognise, the disability community,” Fearnley said after the Games.
“Every battle I win on the track or for a new ramp or change of policy that brings long-deserved rights and access to people with disability is their win. If I can use my profile and ugly mug to give a voice and face to those who don’t have the chance themselves, I must.”
It is a profile Fearnley will no doubt continue to use.