Curtis McGrath: Man on a mission

When he tells his story, Curtis McGrath, knows that it can have a positive impact. It gives him the satisfaction and a sense of fulfilment. He travelled to Shanghai and New Delhi, from Australia, to create an awareness to the disabled about the opportunities.

When life closes one door, it invariably opens another. The Rio Paralympics gold medallist in canoeing had the positive attitude to channelise his energy for a purposeful goal, when he lost both his legs in a bomb blast while on a military operation in Afghanistan in 2012.

“Setting goals is a big part of life. When I was young, I didn’t understand the importance. When you set a goal, and tell people about it, you are more likely to achieve. After rehabilitation, once I set the goal for Rio Paralympics, I had good preparation and drive to get better,’’ said McGrath during a conversation at the Australian High Commission.

Love for adventure

Life itself may be full of uncertainties, and a military life, only adds to that. But, with his love for adventure and an active life, McGrath felt that he had enough of school and did not want to join his friends for further studies and life in a university.

“When I entered the army, I was aware of the risks. The danger you are in, especially with technology constantly making it more dangerous. I wanted a job that I liked. You have to come to terms with what I faced, and it could be worse,’’ he stressed.

McGrath said that he merely capitalised on an opportunity when he chose para canoeing which was being introduced in the Rio Paralympics. They did change the event that he trained, which made him “feel frustrated and angry’’, but he was far too positive to brood about it for long.

“I was interested in swimming, rowing, archery, javelin, shot put. Did kayaking in High school. They changed the event after I had prepared. There was a big difference. Decided to try and trained hard. Got better and better,’’ he recalled, about the constant challenges that life throws at one, at every turn.

Courage of conviction

The 29-year-old McGrath is pretty honest about admitting that he was not good enough in sports prior to the accident to represent Australia in any game. But three months into the operations in Afghanistan, as part of the Australian military, when a bomb explosion shattered his two legs, one above knee and another below it, McGrath had the courage of conviction to believe that it opened opportunities.

“I was aware of the opportunity as a disabled person to go to Paralympics. I got amazing opportunities to do things that not many people get to do. I won the Paralympic gold. I spread the message to the disabled people that there are opportunities that cannot be dismissed,’’ he said.

Even though he was quick to win the Paralympic gold, within about two years of practising a sport, McGrath is keen to defend the title in Tokyo in 2020. “The challenge is bigger than doing it first time. Doing something once is amazing. It was so difficult. So much effort went into it. Trying to defend the gold gives me the motivation. I want to defend the title to just show that it was not someone’s mistake or any other thing. I want to try to get a better time,” he reasoned.

Would he be increasing the training to get better? “I am not sure whether we can increase the load in training. We have already been doing a lot, six days a week, two training sessions a day. I have a hard coach, trying to identify areas of improvement, get stronger and fitter. Do everything to get to peak performance levels,’’ he assessed, looking ahead, three years down the road.

Trying rugby

He also enjoyed competing in wheel-chair rugby, “a great team sport’’ in the Invictus Games and will be an ambassador next year when it is held in Sydney. “Wanted to give someone else a chance, since I had been to three Games.”

He is not sure about life after Tokyo 2020. “We will know once the Games are over. I am saying no to opportunities now. It is a bit disappointing as I may not get the same again. The military supported me to go to Rio. Very good of them. I am in the transition stage now. Moving on from the military, I am evolving. Tried a bit of education and business. Sponsors have come forward,” he said, about staying focused on the immediate task.

In two days, with a visit to Sehwag International School, as part of the programme, McGrath may not see much of India that he had heard as “a place with crazy people, busy place and tasty food,’’ but it has already left a good impression on him.

His friends and family have been of tremendous support to him, as they shared the trauma. ‘’I am engaged and my fiancée is a doctor on emergency duty, Rachel Martin. She has played field hockey,’’ said McGrath, about being surrounded by positive people.

His message is simple and clear. “Playing sport may not take you to Paralympics. Sport is good, not just for the disabled, but for every person. Playing sport is important not only for physical health, but mental health as well,’’ he said.

Kamesh Srinivasan, The Hindu

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