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Sunday, June 26, 2022

TURIA PITT

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FAMED AUSTRALIANS #4

BURNED ALIVE WHILST TAKING PART IN AN AUSTRALIAN MARATHON.

With fire season upon us, my thoughts turn to a story about unbelievable courage, supernatural strength and the sheer determination of a young woman, who never gave up even when all the odds were against her.

Turia Pitt won over all our hearts, with her determination, strength and miraculous recovery after being burned in a bushfire, whilst taking part in a 100km ultra marathon. Turia now faces the hardest marathon yet, as both she and Michael settle into parenthood.

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Turia was born in Tahiti and later moved to Australia with her family when she was just three years old.  Brought up in the coastal town of Ulladulla in New South Wales, Turia met Michael whilst studying at the same school.

Turia had just landed her dream job at Leading Mining Group Rio Tinto when she and boyfriend Michael, a police officer at the time, decided to start a life together as a couple.

Lets turn back the clock to September, 2011.  Turia, 24 years old, was working as an engineer at a nearby diamond mine.  An avid marathon runner, Turia was very tempted to take part in the ultra- marathon, a 100km run through Western Australia’s Kimberley region. However on the day, she decided to opt out of the run, as both she and Michael felt the money would be better used on holiday they had planned.

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The cost to enter was $1,500, so to entice some of the locals to race, the organisers told a selected few they would completely waive the fee, so she jumped at the chance to take part.

Turia had only been running for 19 kilometres and had just passed her second checkpoint when she headed down into the Tier Gorge. Running with a couple of fellow competitors, she removed her earphones to exchange pleasantries, when in the distance her conversation was interrupted by a roaring noise in the distance. Thinking it was trucks on the highway, she put back her earphones and continued on running through shoulder high desert grass on either side of her and the track.

Totally unaware of a grass fire snaking its way up the valley floor to her right, Turia continued running completely in her own world, eyes down, listening to her ipod.  The runners behind her could see the danger ahead, and watched helplessly as she ran straight towards it, when all of a sudden, she looked up.

Turia immediately saw a wall of flame approaching her, she could feel the heat, smell the thick, choking smoke and hear the crumbling, snapping and crackling sound as it burnt through the grass and twigs.

She quickly turned and headed straight back up the track to where five other competitors were, desperately trying to work out what to do next. The path they came down was already shrouded with smoke and knowing they couldn’t outrun the fire, their only option was to remain where they were and wait to either be engulfed by the blaze or rescued.

Turia could see a rocky outcrop up the hill and she thought if she ran up there, there just may be a crevasse or a depression she could hide in to avoid the flame. Crying, she began to climb the hill, her thoughts only of her beloved Michael.  Turia recalls thinking, “This is how she is going to die, how unfair it was, and that she is not going to see Michael ever again.”

The fire was fast and as she felt the flames licking her feet melting her skin.  Covering her legs with a long sleeved shirt she managed to pull out of her backpack Turia curled up into a ball on the ground. The heat was so intense she struggled to breathe.  Turia knew she had to reach fresh air and fast.  She stood up and tried to fast pace it further up the hill, but the fire was faster and it finally caught up with her.

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The next thing Turia recalls is looking down at her arms and hands and seeing them ablaze. As the pain overtook her body, she could hear screams that sounded like a wild animal, only to realise those sounds she was hearing, was in fact her own and with that the fire had passed.

After that, the rest is a bit of a blur as her memory fails her. Turia does recall other uninjured runners racing around trying to make her as comfortable as possible. She also recalls an ambulance officer, someone she knew, arriving at the scene.

“Hi Bonny” Turia said to the officer, but their was no recognition. “It’s me Turia.” she added and when she saw one of her friends begin to cry, it was then Turia realised it must be a lot worse than she first thought.

Turia’s injuries were horrific. They were far worse than anyone could ever have imagined. She had sustained burns to 65 percent of her body, including her hands, legs, arms, face, neck and some of her torso. A surgeon later commented that Turia had literally been cooked down to the bone.

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Turia was choppered out of the remote desert barely alive and hardly recognisable. They didn’t know it then, but she lost seven fingers, had to endure over 200 medical procedures and ended up spending two gruelling years in recovery.

Nine and a half years later and countless skin graft operations, Turia only becomes emotional when she thinks back to how traumatic it must have been for her loved ones to deal with.

Michael ended up giving away his job, to care for Turia 24 hours a day.

Turia: “We all have that inner strength, but rarely do we get the chance to see how incredible we truly are. “I’ve had to claw my way back into life – learn to walk, to talk. All the things I had taken for granted before became seemingly impossible tasks.” she told the Womans Weekly Magazine.

Turia and Michael’s relationship is an integral part of her story of survival.  He is her crutch. For nearly 12 years, two before the accident, he has been by her side, changing bandages, unscrewing jars, and keeping her uplifted. Michael had to do everything for Turia, from tying up her shoelaces to scratching an itch. She became very reliant on him. Like a little kid wanting Mum to do everything for her, Turia realised she had to learn to become independent once more. She once looked at her relationship with Michael as patient and carer. It took many years  to get her to the point where she could confidently say she and Michael were back to being boyfriend and girlfriend.

The pair got engaged in 2015 but Michael revealed that he actually bought her a diamond ring whilst she was fighting for her life in intensive care. Michael was drawn to the ring after seeing it displayed in a jewellery store linked to the mine where Pitt worked, so he arranged to buy it and secretly gave it to his father to hold onto.  The one thing Michael loves about Turia, is that she doesn’t want anyones pitty.  She just wants to move forward with her life to the best of her ability. As for Turia, many over the years have asked the one question you as readers are probably wondering, did she ever fear Michael would leave her as a result of her injuries.
Her answer, “it never entered my mind. I didn’t attract him because I was lucky, but because I’ve got a lot of qualities he likes and respects and is attracted to.”

Since then

Turia has written three best-selling books, coached over 40,000 people in her digital courses, shared the stage with Tony Robbins, competed in the ‘Ironwoman World Championships’, she is working with the reconstructive surgery charity Interplast, she is creating her goal-setting initiative School of Champions, has boat around French Polynesia, walked the Kokoda Trek, met some amazing people and started a business as a motivational speaker which she is truly proud of.

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Still just engaged, the loved up couple in 2017 welcomed their first child, a boy, Hakavai.  Pitt 29 at the time, found out she was pregnant (fifteen weeks) just three days before she was to take part in a Mount Everest trek. Two years later the couple celebrated another son, Rahiti.

Turia and her friend Grace McBride have teamed up together to set up an instagram page, @spendwiththem that encourages people to buy from businesses that have been impacted by bushfires. Turia was keen for the public to help communities rebuild by putting money in their pockets. Within an hour, the page had 10,000 followers, a week later it had grown to a massive 200,000 followers.

And Michael these days has opted for a completely different career choice working as a builder and in his spare time working towards obtaining his helicopter licence.

Turia Pitt, one of two people who were burnt in the fires, has accepted a private multi-million-dollar settlement by the organisers of the event. Kate Sanderson, who lost part of one foot, also has settled with organisers. At the time of settlement, Turia had already spent more than $3 million having her face, hands and body reconstructed.

A WA parliamentary inquiry into the state-government sponsored event found that RacingThePlanet did not do enough to ensure the safety of competitors.

Surviving against overwhelming odds, Turia has regained her life and defied every expectation placed on her.  Turia is living proof that with the right mindset and loving family and friends around her, anyone can overcome and achieve almost anything.

Turia – “Of course. I go through dark times. But everyone has bad days. You can let experiences destroy you or mould you. I choose to let them mould me.”

 

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