Read Everything to Live For: The Inspirational Story of Turia Pitt Online
Authors: Turia Pitt
In September 2011, Turia Pitt, a beautiful twenty-four-year-old mining engineer working at her dream job in Western Australia, entered an ultramarathon race that would change her life forever. Caught by fire in a remote gorge in the Kimberley, Turia and five other competitors had nowhere to run. Eventually – through an act of heroism – air-lifted to hospital, she had suffered catastrophic burns to 65 per cent of her body.
Battle upon battle has followed: first to survive, next to adapt – to the remnants of her face, the loss of fingers, daily therapy, endless operations – and then for justice. Because the race should never have happened. Turia’s fight with the race organisers is ongoing.
Everything to Live For
explores Turia’s journey and the web of people and events around it. It is a study of strength – of Turia’s will; of the love of her partner, Michael, and the couple’s families; and of the support from their community in Ulladulla, New South Wales, who have rallied, raising funds to help with huge medical bills.
It is a miracle Turia lived when she was expected to die. But Turia was not ready to die – she had too much to live for.
This book is dedicated to the other two ‘amigos’ – my mother and Michael
Foreword by Michael Usher,
Acknowledgements – Libby Harkness
ITT IS THE STRONGEST PERSON
HE’S ALSO SMART
, tough, funny and forthright.
Believe me, there have been times over the past two years when our interviews and conversations have turned around and suddenly Turia’s the one asking me the questions!
That strength and willpower allowed Turia to become a survivor. And one of the most amazing survivors you’ll ever meet. She shouldn’t have lived through the hell of that outback bush fire: her doctors have never seen a burns patient live, having suffered such deep and severe burns. But Turia doesn’t give up. It’s not in her nature. She questions, she challenges, and she works damn hard to regain her independence.
None of us can really understand what Turia endures every day as she rebuilds her life. But I do know that she has my highest respect.
Her story is inspirational. You’ll be embarrassed by your daily gripes and complaints when you realise what Turia goes through every day to rebuild her life.
I think you’ll also find that Turia’s story will challenge your own fears and insecurities. What happens when your looks change? What happens when your physical identity becomes something entirely different? How do you see yourself and how do others see you? Turia has had to confront all of this, and she has some amazing answers to these questions. Most beautifully, she’s always told me that her burns may have been skin deep, but the fire couldn’t touch her soul. And her soul is full of love, strength and hope.
I was nervous when I first met Turia in late 2011 when she was still in the burns ward. Those nerves didn’t last long. Turia very quickly started hitting me with questions, we had a laugh and we became mates.
You’ll also have a laugh with Turia as she tells her story. But mostly I think, like me, you’ll be in awe of her spirit. Turia’s story puts our own lives in some much-needed perspective.
HE FIRE WAS COMING TOWARDS US SO FAST THERE WAS NO
time to think. The noise was louder than a jet engine and I was scared. My heart was pumping. Searing heat and thick smoke were stressing me more.
I didn’t know the others; I told one of them that I was scared and he said not to worry, that if we hid behind the rocks halfway up the hill the fire would just go over us.
There was no way out; I knew I had to go up; I also knew fire went faster up hills. The rocky escarpment was steep and covered in long dry grass. I had already run about 23 kilometres and I was pretty tired but I made it to the rock ledge with the others and we stood there for a minute as the fire raged towards us. It all happened very quickly.
I dragged a long-sleeved top from my backpack and tried to protect my legs with it as I curled up in a small depression among the rocks. But it just got hotter and hotter and hotter . . . I couldn’t stand it anymore. Terrified, I stood and tried scrambling further up the hill and that’s when the fire swept over me; I fell, and as I put my hands out in front of me, they were on fire.
I was screaming; I don’t know for how long or how loud. I was screaming with terror and crying with pain.
Fuck, is this how I die?
At that moment the person I thought about most was Michael.
No, this is not how I die.
Then I felt nothing. I don’t remember much else after that.
AT THE AGE OF TWENTY-FOUR
, while competing in an ultramarathon in the beautiful Kimberley region of Far North Western Australia, my life changed forever.
I can never get my old life back. It’s gone, along with my fingers, my old face and nose, the smooth skin on my arms, legs and neck; gone also is the way the world looked at me. The way strangers look at me now is different to the way they looked at me before the fire.
I was living the dream life. I was fit, healthy and happy; I had it all – a great family, a cool job, a fun circle of friends and a man I loved. I still have those things – the company I worked for even said I could have my old job back if I wanted it. But nothing is really the same. And never will be. I will have a disability for the rest of my life, and I am still young.
Let me tell you about the life I had before the fire.
I was born in Papeete, Tahiti, on 28 July 1987; my mum, Célestine, is Tahitian from a place called Faa’a. Dad, Michael, is Australian from Sydney. Dad was living his dream life – living and surfing in Tahiti – when he met Mum. She was sixteen, very beautiful and training to be a teacher. They married when she was seventeen; she had my brother Genji when she was eighteen and me when she was nineteen.
By the time I was born, Dad had been living in Tahiti for six years and, while he loved it, he was seriously thinking of moving back to Australia as he wanted us to be brought up there. He’s a graphic artist, and when he was offered a good job opportunity in Sydney he decided to take it, and we moved there in 1988. I was eight months old and Genji was eighteen months.
When we first arrived we lived in the inner-city suburb of Chippendale, where I took my first steps at nine months. Mum says that even as a toddler, I was always active, always wanting to be on the go. She would walk us to Hyde Park in the city, Genji walking beside the pushchair, with me in it struggling to get out and walk too.
We moved to Maroubra when I was three and it was also about this time when we first went back to Tahiti. I was too young to remember much but Mum tells me all my relatives were so happy to see Genji and me. My
(Tahitian grandmother) says we may have been brought up in Australia, but our spirit belongs to the
I started school at Daceyville Primary in Maroubra; Genji was already there and I couldn’t wait to join him. One of the main things I remember about my childhood is looking up to Genji. We were close, not just in age. I was always trying to tag along wherever he went; sometimes he’d let me, other times he wouldn’t.
We were quite competitive though. I was always trying to outdo anything he did. He was hyperactive and not afraid of anything. Because we didn’t have a telly, Genji and I used to climb up on the roof and watch our neighbours’ telly through their skylight. Once he tried to get me to jump off the roof but I wouldn’t. I’m adventurous but I wasn’t that stupid! We shared a room when we were young and I was more particular about my side of the room than he was about his and I drew a line down the middle that he wasn’t allowed to cross.
I was into books at an early age. Mum loved reading and wanted to be a writer. To improve her English, she joined the Bowen Library in Maroubra and always had a big pile of books in the house. She and Dad didn’t believe in TV, so we didn’t have one for many years and we were encouraged to read instead. Every Friday night we would go to Bowen and select our books for the coming week. I loved books by Roald Dahl (and still do), and as I got older I would read books by Paul Jennings. Genji wasn’t much of a reader but he liked the ‘Tomorrow’ series by John Marsden – more action.
Dad comes from a tight-knit family. He and his two brothers – all keen surfers – grew up in Maroubra but spent a lot of their childhood and teenage years down the south coast of New South Wales; his grandparents had retired there and the surf was good. Soon after we arrived from Tahiti, Dad and his brothers put a deposit on a weekender at Lake Tabourie on the South Coast, about a four-hour drive from Sydney. Dad liked the way the Greeks and Italians met up for big family get-togethers at weekends and holidays and he thought that was the way our family should be too.
By the time I was four, we were going down to Tabourie every second weekend and for holidays and we loved it. Genji and I would sit in the back of Dad’s Citroën making up songs about going down the coast: ‘Down the coast, down the coast, we’re going down the coast . . .’ We chanted this monotonously all the way there. We thought it was fun – it probably drove Mum and Dad mad.
Tabourie was where Genji and I first learnt to surf. Genji was really good right from the start. Dad would help me on the board and push me out into the waves but over the years I found Genji a better teacher – he was fearless in the surf. When I wasn’t in the water or running along the beach with Dad, I was reading.