Turia Pitt on tackling adversity

Turia Pitt “Accidents happen all the time and anyone can get injured, I’m not unique, but what is unique is how I’ve rebuilt my life, which is as good as, if not better, than before.”

Kirstie Bedford talks to burns survivor Turia Pitt about her incredible courage and how you can tackle adversity head-on – and win.

Turia Pitt has endured more than most of us will in a lifetime, but she doesn’t want your sympathy, and she certainly doesn’t need it.

Being a victim doesn’t sit well with the now 35 year old from the small town of Mollymook on the south coast of NSW, and it never has; but it was a position she found herself in after she was caught in a bushfire while competing in an ultra-marathon in the Kimberley region in 2011. The former model and mining engineer received 65% burns to her body and was told by doctors she’d never walk, run or be independent again. 

What she did next defined all odds.

THE FIRE

A fitness fanatic, the challenge of a 100-kilometre race had appealed to the then 24-year-old. “I loved to run, whenever I was stressed at the mine I’d go out for a two hour run and it’d clear my mind.” The race began like any other, but what she couldn’t possibly know was that a raging bushfire was heading straight for her and she became trapped in a gorge with no-where to go. Talking about it now doesn’t sit well with her, but she says it was “kind of surreal”.

“It’s like a movie and there’s a lot of disbelief and shock. Afterwards they flew me to Concord Hospital and I was asleep for a month and woke up six months later.” She says when she woke up she doesn’t really remember that much because she was in a lot of pain and on a lot of medication, but of course her fiancé Michael, and her mother and other family were by her side.

HE ROAD TO RECOVERY

Despite losing the use of seven fingers and in immense pain, she hadn’t lost her determination. “I realised that if I did work hard and took steps each day that I’d get results and so my goals were small .. like walking five steps and doing stairs and they grew from there.”

She says of course it wasn’t all plain sailing. “It’s like life, some days you have good days and other days everything seems to go wrong and sometimes I felt positive and others I felt like this is hard and I can’t do this. No-one is invincible and I was in a lot of pain.” She says it’s not something you easily move on from. “You carry the trauma with you for the rest of your life, it’s like losing a loved one … it’s always with you.”

THE EARLY DAYS

Born in Tahiti, Turia’s family moved to the south coast of New South Wales when she was three years old.  She’d always loved maths and science and chose mining because she wanted an “adventurous job in remote locations”.

She says mining engineering suited her, even if she didn’t typify the industry.   “When I first went to university one of the male students in the class said, ‘what are you doing here, you’re in the wrong class’ and I said no I’m not!” Turia had only been working in the industry for about a year when she competed in the ultra-marathon. 

“Accidents happen all the time and anyone can get injured, I’m not unique, but what is unique is how I’ve rebuilt my life, which is as good as, if not better, than before.”

This is part of an article that first appeared in an earlier issue of Executive PA Magazine in 2016. Read the full feature on Turia Pitt’s remarkable story here