"Generations of proud men and women with disabilities allowed me to become the person and athlete that you see fit to receive this award"
Australia's wheelchair racer Kurt Fearnley has created history on becoming the first athlete with a disability to win the country’s coveted ‘The Don’ Award.
The announcement took place on Thursday (11 October) at the Sport Australia Hall of Fame Gala in Melbourne.
‘The Don’, named after Australia’s cricket legend Sir Donald Bradman, is awarded to an athlete or team each year, who by their achievements and example over the last 12 months, are considered to have had the capacity to most inspire the nation.
In what was his fourth time named as a finalist, Fearnley beat a star-studded list of athletes including motorsport stars Daniel Ricciardo and Will Power, women’s footballer Sam Kerr, cricketer Ellyse Perry, wheelchair racing champion Madison de Rozario, field hockey captain Mark Knowles and Para triathlete Lauren Parker.
“I am honoured by ‘The Don’ Award and I will do my best to be worthy of it,” the 37-year-old said in his acceptance speech.
Fearnley was not present at Crown Palladium to accept the honour in person, as he was in the USA after taking part in the Chicago marathon.
“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,” the three-time Paralympic champion said.
Gold Coast triumph
The athlete from Newcastle captured the nation’s hearts earlier this year at the Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games in what was to be his swansong performance in Australian colours, winning gold in the marathon and silver in the 1500m.
“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,” Fearnley said.
“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,” he added.
Reflecting on his Gold Coast 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.”