The title of this blog post is possibly a little misleading – I don’t need to search for a hero, I have one. Well, actually, I have a couple but there’s one I want to talk about today. The problem is not that I don’t have one, it’s that, despite doing amazing things, he doesn’t seem to get the recognition he deserves and that’s particularly obvious today. I’m talking about the incredible, talented and inspirational Kurt Fearnley.
In the early hours of this morning (Australian time), Kurt won a silver medal in the marathon at the Rio paralympics. It was an amazingly close finish with a second separating him from the gold medal spot. This is his second medal in these games and his fourth straight paralympic medal in the marathon. Yet, if you watched the major broadcasters in Australia or read the headlines of the online news this morning, you wouldn’t see it. If you are persistent and trawl through the other fillers on the front pages and make it to the ‘little’ stories, you’ll find his achievement hidden away and reported as if it’s something less than amazing – Fearnley’s agonising near miss for wheelchair gold. (I’m picking on the Sydney Morning Herald here but they’re all about the same and at least they actually have a story on him). He won a silver medal!! He gave it everything he had, put in an incredible performance and showed, in his post race demeanour, that he is truly a top human being.
Of course, Kurt isn’t the only one to have had his achievements underplayed by the media and the Australian media isn’t alone in their lack of coverage. The paralympics as a whole haven’t had the recognition that they should have.
My frustration with this is on a few levels.
Firstly, I’m frustrated for the athletes themselves. They work ridiculously hard, overcome obstacles that I can’t fathom and compete at an elite level for our country. Surely that is worth at least equal recognition to other sportspeople (eg, Daniel Riccardio’s second place podium made it front page this morning).
Secondly, the public deserve to know more about these inspirational role models. Over the last 2 weeks of term, my Grade 4s and I have been enjoying watching, reading about and researching the paralympics and the athletes who compete in them. At the end of term, I gave my students an assignment to write about a hero and several of them wrote about paralympians who they had only just discovered but whose achievements, tenacity and determination made them instant heroes in 10 year olds’ eyes. I want other children and adults to have the chance to know more about these athletes, what they can do, what they have overcome and the attitudes and dispositions they cultivate which make them who they are. If my students only have the standard media diet of misbehaving AFL players and foul mouthed musicians to choose from for their role models, I worry about who they will become.
Finally, I’m over being dictated to about what I can watch. I’ve spoken to lots of people over the last few weeks who also were outraged over the lack of coverage so clearly this has public support. So why do media outlets continue to ignore this? Are there really that many Australians interested in stories about Donald Trump or Manchester United that they needed to take up front page space on The Age website this morning? I had a short stint as a journalist so know how media organisations set the agenda based on perceived public interest but surely it must be obvious that whatever perception they’re holding is way out of whack?
Rant over….for today. I shall end simply by thanking Kurt Fearnley for being the amazing human being he is. He is one of the people I think of and draw inspiration from when I’m on my long runs or when I’m at that ‘is it over yet?’ point of an event. Kurt’s determination, humility and inability to see barriers are qualities I would love to emulate and so I’ll continue to loudly applaud his achievements, of which I have no doubt there will be many more.