When Kurt Fearnley capped off his Australia racing career on Sunday night by carrying the flag into Carrara Stadium for the Commonwealth Games closing ceremony, there were no doubt many thoughts running through his mind.
Amongst them was remembering where his wheelchair racing career began and the small Carcoar community which supported him along the way.
“It’s such a massive thing for me and my family. Again you think about the country, but you just make it so personal,” Fearnley said.
“I think about those 200 farmers that paid 10 grand to buy me my first wheelchair. The people around Carcoar who bought me my first trip overseas.
“My mum who took me to an airport when I was 14 and let me get on a plan to see another group of racing wheelchairs in the US and let me leave Carcoar. You think of my old man grabbing me when he saw a wheelchair race when I was 11 before I met another person in a wheelchair.
“You think of all those moments.”
While wearing Australian colours Fearnley has competed across the globe at Commonwealth Games, Olympic Games and World Championships.
He has won gold medals in Athens, Assen, Beijing, Delhi and Christchurch as well as the one he clinched on Sunday morning.
But all the while, Fearnley has remembered his roots.
“The country, I think of the country as just an expansion of my family,” he said.
“When you grow up in a town of 200 people, you know every single person there and every single person is part of your journey.
“You feel that stretch out, you know, you’re a young kid growing up, you barely leave that little town, that’s your world, that’s your country.
“Then you just stretch your family out to be this last week, where every metre I was able to go through the Gold Coast, people were stopping and hugging me.
“My country are the people who have just given and given and I felt like I’ve been able to build this racing career because of their generosity.”
The support Fearnley received at the Games made sure he will certainly have fond memories of his last races in the green and gold.
“It’s just been an unbelievable week, these Games have been one of the most enjoyable things that I have been a part of. The [marathon], I feel like I’ve lost fluid but from crying all morning, it’s just one of the most emotional things I’ve been a part of by far,” the 37-year-old said.
“I couldn’t have imagined winning [the marathon], I couldn’t have imagined the reception I received from locals all week, I couldn’t have imagined being named co-captain with Sally [Pearson] of the athletics team.”
Fearnley’s gold medal push in the marathon – covering almost the entire distance on his own in front of the field – was an emotional one for him.
That his family was there waiting at the finish to share the moment with him added to the occasion.
But Tuesday night’s 1,500 metres final at Carrara Stadium, where Fearnley claimed silver in his track finale, was also a special moment given the atmosphere created by the large, vocal crowd.
“The last time I raced in front of a home crowd like that was Sydney [Olympics] 18 years ago when I was 18. I think 18 I was intimidated, [Tuesday] night I just enjoyed every second of it,” he said.
To get the honour of carrying the Australian flag at the end of the Games was a fitting way to farewell the champion. He was the first Para athlete that had been given that task.
Tuck that fella under the pillow. That crowd was amazing. Such a privilege to race in front of. Time for a snooze, a day off & line up 610am Sunday morning for the marathon. Thank you, thank you, thank you for all the messages! pic.twitter.com/gy9fsou1Pq— Kurt Fearnley (@kurtfearnley) April 10, 2018
In Fearnley’s typically humble fashion, after learning he’d been selected he asked Australia’s chef de mission Steve Moneghetti if he was sure he’d gotten the right person for the job.
“I’m a bit emotional, we’re both a bit emotional,” Moneghetti said.
“He asked me if I was sure and I told him I couldn’t think of a more worthy person to be carrying an Australian flag out at one of our most successful Commonwealth Games ever than Kurt Fearnley.”
Moneghetti’s choice could not have been better.
“I’d carry this to the ends of the earth I think,” Fearnley said.
“I’m just surprised, it’s a little overwhelming to tell you the truth.
“As a kid, I couldn’t have imagined seeing a guy in a wheelchair, a girl in a wheelchair, carrying the flag out in a closing ceremony at the Commonwealth Games. I couldn’t have imagined the impact it would have made on me … I couldn’t have imagined the way I would wake up tomorrow and go to school and the idea of pride.”
Fearnley will still contest marathons – he is set to race in London this coming Sunday – but he said he has definitely worn the green and gold for the last time.
“I’m going to head across to the London Marathon to have a crack at that, then I’m going on a holiday, I’m going to take a long breath,” he said.
“I’m going to hug my family, they’ve all been through this pretty hard campaign, I’ve got a four-month old baby.
“They still don’t believe me, they would ride along and carry me through another 10 years, but I know [it’s time].
“I know within myself it’s the perfect time. I know it’s not my last run, I’ll run until they bury me in a gutter somewhere.
“But as far as the green and gold, I’ve received so much from this thing.”
When asked what has he has learned over all his years of racing, Fearnley replied: “everything”. It is knowledge he is now passing on to the next generation – Para and able-bodied athletes alike.
“It’s a long game, don’t get caught up in the minutes, don’t get caught up in a single race. All of those bumps and bruises, all of those knocks, they’re not the bad thing you think they are. When you’re looking back over 20 years those bumps and those knocks and those breaks, they’re the things that are sometimes the highlights.”