Athlete Motivationalist, Engineer & Author
She suffered horrific burns to 65 per cent of her body when caught in a grassfire during an ultramarathon in the remote Kimberley region of Western Australia. She spent the next six months in hospital, underwent more than 200 operations, and lost seven fingers. But still, no one was ever going to tell mining engineer Turia Pitt what she could and could not do.
Her doctors meant well, she says, when they told her she'd have to spend the rest of her life in an air-conditioned room and would never be able to go out in the sun, have a career or run again. She, however, had other ideas.
'I know they were trying to do their job and prepare me for the new realities of my life,' says Turia, now 29, of the heart-rending period following the 2011 catastrophe. But there's a lot to be said for having belief in yourself was talking to my mum and Michael, my partner, and told them, "I want to do an lronman!" They didn't say, "No, we should listen to the doctors," They said, "Awesome! Let's go out walking and then start training again and see how we go."
The only thing that stops us doing things is ourselves. Once you understand that, the sky's your limit!
'I think it's so important to have faith in yourself and what you think and feel and believe, and also to listen only to the key people in your life, who you are really close to, who know you and who you know want the best for you.'
The rest, as they say, is history. Turia's courage and ability to inspire others won her the NSW Premier's Award for Woman of the Year in 2014, and she was a Young Australian of the Year state finalist in 2017. She's an ambassador for Interplast, a charity that sends teams of volunteer plastic and reconstructive surgeons to those who need them across the Asia Pacific, and has raised over $1 million for this cause. She has her own coaching business, Turia's School of Champions, and her second book. Unmasked, has just been published.
In May 2016 Turia completed her first Ironman Australia competition, and five months later backed this up with the Ironman World Championship in Hawaii.
The experience of fighting her way back to recovery from such a terrible accident has taught her an incredible lesson. 'If you live your life as other people tell you to, then you're going to have a very limited life' Turia says today. 'But if you try to believe in yourself and dream big, you can do anything you want to - or at least have a crack at it!
- SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - MARCH 21: Rebecca Privitelli of the Giants competes for the ball against Harriet Cordner (L) and Brenna Tarrant (R) of the Demons during the AFLW Semi Final match between the Greater Western Sydney Giants and the Melbourne Demons at GIANTS Stadium on March 21, 2020 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Matt King/AFL Photos )
- MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - MARCH 21: Ellie Gavalas of the Kangaroos and Jessica Trend of the Kangaroos celebrate a win after the final siren during the 2020 AFLW Semi Final match between the North Melbourne Kangaroos and the Collingwood Magpies at Ikon Park on March 21, 2020 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Dylan Burns/AFL Photos)
- SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - MARCH 21: Pepa Randall of the Giants and team mates look dejected after the AFLW Semi Final match between the Greater Western Sydney Giants and the Melbourne Demons at GIANTS Stadium on March 21, 2020 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Matt King/AFL Photos )
- FREMANTLE, AUSTRALIA - MARCH 21: The seats are empty i the old grand stand during the 2020 AFLW Semi Final match between the Fremantle Dockers and the Gold Coast Suns at Fremantle Oval on March 21, 2020 in Fremantle, Australia. (Photo by Daniel Carson/AFL Photos)
- MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - MARCH 22: Orla O'Dwyer of the Lions is tackled by Jess Hosking of the Blues during the AFLW Semi Final match between the Carlton Blues and the Brisbane Lions at Ikon Park on March 22, 2020 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Daniel Pockett/AFL Photos)
- MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - MARCH 22: Sarah Hosking of the Blues kicks at goal during the AFLW Semi Final match between the Carlton Blues and the Brisbane Lions at Ikon Park on March 22, 2020 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Daniel Pockett/AFL Photos)
- MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - MARCH 22: Orla O'Dwyer of the Lions and . Kerryn Harrington of the Blues contest the ball during the AFLW Semi Final match between the Carlton Blues and the Brisbane Lions at Ikon Park on March 22, 2020 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Daniel Pockett/AFL Photos)
- MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - MARCH 22: Blues players simulate fans for teammates, from where the cheer squad usually sits, after winning the AFLW Semi Final match between the Carlton Blues and the Brisbane Lions at Ikon Park on March 22, 2020 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Daniel Pockett/AFL Photos)
- MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - MARCH 21: Kaitlyn Ashmore of the Kangaroos celebrates a goal during the 2020 AFLW Semi Final match between the North Melbourne Kangaroos and the Collingwood Magpies at Ikon Park on March 21, 2020 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Dylan Burns/AFL Photos)
- MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - MARCH 21: Sarah D'Arcy of the Magpies and Sarah Wright of the Kangaroos compete for the ball during the 2020 AFLW Semi Final match between the North Melbourne Kangaroos and the Collingwood Magpies at Ikon Park on March 21, 2020 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Dylan Burns/AFL Photos)
'When I was younger, my dad would take me surfing and sometimes he knew I was scared. But he'd stop and ask me, "What's the worst that can happen?" I'd say, "Maybe I'll fall off or have a wipe-out But I suppose neither is so bad..."
'I use that lesson a lot even today. When you decide to try something, just ask yourself, what's the worst that can happen? You'll lose a bit of time or money or look like a bit of a goose? None of those are that terrible. And at least you'll have tried and found out what you did wrong, or know how to do it better the next time.'
That's a mantra Turia has now practised throughout her life: never be afraid of trying to do exactly what you want, to reach for your dreams and to refuse to listen when others tell you to scale back your expectations.
Maybe not everything you do is going to be a success, or will happen as you'd like it to, but you won't know unless you try.
As a kid at school, she chose some of the toughest science subjects to study, despite her classmates and teachers questioning whether she was smart enough, and urging her to pick softer options. She then went to university to study to become a mining engineer and, again, ignored the naysayers.
When she turned up for her first class, she faced yet another challenge. 'I walked in and all the other students, male students, told me I was in the wrong class,' she says. 'I said, "No, I'm not:' But they insisted. I pointed out my timetable and said it was right, but still they didn't want to listen. It was a very awkward moment!
'Of course, at times I did doubt myself. I did wonder if I'd picked the right career and struggled with feeling not accepted in such a male-dominated industry. It was hard going on field trips, for instance, when there often weren't any female bathrooms. But I was really interested in mining, and that's what wanted to do.
'Then I got a job with the Argyle Diamond Mine in Kununurra in the Kimberley and, despite people warning me against taking it, saying it was too far away, it worked out really well. They had a fantastic work culture there, they actually wanted women in the workplace, they wanted diversity, they were supportive and I had a brilliant career:
So by the time Turia was engulfed in the flames of an out-of-control bushfire 20 kilometres into the ultramarathon, she'd already learnt how important it can be to rely on your own judgement.
But during her recovery, she had a great deal of time to work on her resilience, contemplate her beliefs, mull over her mental strategies, examine them from every angle and then put them into action to help her live her second chance at life to its fullest.
That gave her the perfect grounding to be able to mentor others, particularly young women, and encourage them to raise their aspirations, picture their goals and work out how to achieve them.
'You're going to have people saying No to you all throughout your life, but it's important to do what you want to do,' she says. 'I've always relished challenging myself. It's good to step outside your comfort zone because that's where you really grow as a person.' If you are safe and comfortable, you're not stretching yourself and you don't then know what you can achieve.
'It's all about believing in yourself and dropping your excuses. Everyone can come up with good reasons why they can't do stuff. The only thing that stops us doing things is ourselves. Once you understand that, the sky's your limit!'
What is the quality you admire most about yourself?
My determination and perseverance. I'm like a dog with a bone. It can be irritating for my partner, Michael, who often tells me to just chill out. But I'm really grateful for those qualities. If I didn't have them, I might not have done so well.
How did you develop such a positive mindset, or is it a natural thing for you?
I don't think I was born that way: I just know how to use my mind to my advantage. It's all strategy. I've had a head start in some ways in that I learnt a lot of strategies from my parents. Dad would ask me what is the worst that could happen to me if I tried something new. And Mum was all about seeing the best in every situation. Once, our car got wrecked, so we had to walk 8 kilometres to and from town. She would say, 'Great! I love doing this. It's a great way to get daily exercise!'
Why is it so important to you to practice the gratitude attitude?
It's very easy to get bogged down in the minutiae of everyday life and get stressed out by things that go wrong. Gratitude is the antidote to that. I spend a few minutes every morning thinking of things I'm grateful for, and I find that really shifts your perspective. It's important to step back and think that, in the scheme of things, some things aren't that important.
How do you deal with comparing yourself to others?
It was hard in hospital not to compare myself with the old Turia. But gratitude can help there too. That helps you stop comparing yourself to others - or your former self - and thinking about how precious life is, and what you want to do with it.
What was the biggest barrier you've faced in achieving your goals? How did you overcome it?
I honestly think that we put up barriers ourselves: we are our own worst enemies. We can all come up with so many reasons for not doing things - I don't have the time, I'm too busy or, in my case, I've been burned and I can't possibly run again. But the only thing stopping you is yourself.
Looking back, what advice would you give to your teenage self?
I would probably tell her to be more grateful, to be honest I never really reflected on gratitude before my accident I had a lot of positives in my life: a great boyfriend, great family, great friends, and a great job, but I think back then, I still focused on what I didn't have. I wasn't ungrateful, but I just didn't appreciate everything enough.
Believe in the Dream Collection by
Sue Williams is an award-winning journalist and columnist who's written for all of Australia's leading newspapers and magazines. She also appears regularly on TV and on radio, and has had her own TV segment on SBS TV's popular Hotline program. Born in England, she has worked in print and TV in the UK and New Zealand, too.