Burns victim and this year’s NSW Woman of the Year Turia Pitt will return to the Border next month to tell the inspiring story of how one fateful day in 2011 gave her a new will to live life to the full, writes SUE WALLACE.
TURIA Pitt insists she is not extraordinary, just someone who has been given a second chance at life.
“People often call me extraordinary, but you know I don’t feel like that at all — I think I am a person who has been given another opportunity and I want to make the most of it so that’s what drives me,” she says.
Turia made headlines in September 2011 after suffering horrific burns while caught in a raging grassfire while competing in a 100 kilometre ultra-marathon in Western Australia’s Kimberley region.
Trapped by fire in a gorge, she and five other competitors had nowhere to hide and she received horrific burns to more than 65 per cent of her body and wasn’t expected to live.
She lost all her fingers on her right hand and three on her left hand as well as suffering severe burns to her face and upper body.
With too little unburned skin left for skin grafts, Turia was put in an induced coma in the Burns Unit at Sydney’s Concord Hospital while her body fought life-threatening infections and her surgeons imported skin from California.
But Turia defied all the odds and astounded the medical fraternity with her sheer will to live.
These days she is again making headlines, this time for her amazing achievements.
She walked the Great Wall of China last month and raised $200,000 for Interplast, a charity that provides free reconstructive surgery to people in developing countries, rode a bike from Sydney to Uluru and swam in a long distance race across the Kimberley’s Lake Argyle.
Many would have given up after what she’s been through, but not Turia.
So what inspires her? It’s that four-letter word — LIFE.
“I want to get on with life and help others; when I see children who are badly burnt like I did on a trip with Interplast to Laos, I have great empathy and know the pain they’re going through,” she says.
Turia, 29, who travelled through Albury as a child, will return to the Border next month to tell her inspiring story at the Hey Ladies Lunch organised by the Albury Tigers Club.
The annual charity lunch raises funds for the McGrath Foundation to assist local breast care nurses and is set to be a sell-out.
“I do a lot of motivational speaking and I never tire of it as I think how lucky I am being here to tell my story so I am really looking forward to the lunch,” Turia says.
“I also find the questions interesting because as well as the ones you expect someone usually has a different one to ask.”
Turia is recovering from another operation, this time on her hand, at her home in Mollymook on the NSW coast. It’s operation number 28.
During our phone interview Turia chats with ease as she recalls her ordeal and sounds bright and confident, laughing at times.
She talks passionately about her commitment to Interplast and her plans to take another charity walk to the Inca Trail in Peru next year.
Central to her life is partner Michael Hoskins who she describes as her rock.
Her childhood sweetheart, who became the love of her life, cares for her as they plan a new life together with thoughts of having a family one day.
“Michael has been amazing and I couldn’t have got through it without him, he’s been by my side all the time and encourages me in everything I do,” she says.
“Like everyone I have days when I think I can’t be bothered to get out of bed but then I tell myself to get stuck into things and I am lucky to have survived.”
Later this year the couple are off on a sailing trip around Tahiti where Turia was born.
Her Tahitian mother Celestine Vaite, met her father Michael Pitt, who was living there.
The family migrated to Australia when Turia — Tahitian for goddess of the sea — was three and ended up at Ulladulla.
Life has certainly changed dramatically for Turia, who worked as a model before landing her dream job at mining giant Rio Tinto’s Argyle Diamond Mine and living at Kununurra with Michael.
Always a keen student, she studied at the University of NSW where she earned a double degree with honours in mining engineering and science and is now studying for a master’s degree.
Turia, who is optimistic about the future, last year penned her memoirs of the fateful day and her long road to recovery in an inspiring book, Everything To Live For.
There have been many accolades of which she is proud, including being named the NSW Premier’s Woman of the Year and a finalist for Young Australian of the Year.
She is an ambassador for Interplast, graced the cover of The Australian Women’s Weekly and is a judge for the Australian Woman of the Future Fund.
But it is often the little things that hit home, such as entries on her website from many she will never meet.
A 12-year-old girl wrote, “I choose you as I wanted to choose a true role model, not a pop singer or a sports star. I can remember hearing you telling your story on the radio in the car on the way back from Dubbo Zoo and thinking how much I would like to be a person like you when I grow up.”
And another, “Turia, you are the epitome of inspiration, motivation and hope. The burns may have affected your physical body; however your spirit fought back and has revealed you to be a remarkably talented and focused individual with courage to continue life to the fullest.
“It gives real meaning to the old Aussie saying of ‘pick yourself up, dust yourself off and get on with it.’ You are a beautiful person.”
As for not being extraordinary — I certainly disagree.