City2Surf: king Kurt's chairman of the racing elite

Brand new day ... Kurt Fearnley sees races as a chance for people to see capability, not disability.
Brand new day ... Kurt Fearnley sees races as a chance for people to see capability, not disability.

The 14km course is just part of the City2Surf journey for a wheelchair athlete. It starts for some at birth and others later in life.

It's a long and sometimes expensive way to start the line and a bit more complex than lacing up the runners and going for a jog.

My journey started at birth when I was born with a condition called lumbar sacral agenesis.

In short, I'm missing a few vertebrae in my back and have never been able to walk.

Others, like female racer and four-time Paralympian Christie Dawes, aren't born with a condition and are reliant on their chair following illness or accident.

In Christie's case a car accident at age 11.

Next step to competing is getting a specialised race wheelchair. Racing wheelchairs cost upwards of $5000 and can be hard to come by.

Thankfully I have a chair sponsor now and receive subsidised race gear to help meet the expense, but for most athletes including myself, the first seat in a race wheelchair comes through the kindness of others.

My first race chair was funded by the citizens of my home town Carcoar when I was 14. They got together in one night and came up with the $10,000 for the chair and for my first international competition.

Jake Lappin, a teenager who competed at the Commonwealth Games in Delhi last year, and Rheed McCracken a 15 year old Queenslander will join me on the start line in chairs funded by the generosity of private backers.

After you've got your race chair, the training kicks in, which usually means hitting the road.

Footpaths aren't suitable for training so we have to use cycleways, artificial running tracks or local roadways.

While wheelchair racing might look like cycling sometimes, it's considered an athletic event as we don't use gears and rely on the strength of two limbs to propel us, in our case arms rather than legs.

When we're race ready, the next step to the start line is finding a race to compete in! In Australia there are a number of road races throughout the year that have wheelchair categories but distance and cost of travel often make it hard to get a strong field together.

The first City2Surf elite wheelchair race will have one of the biggest fields the sport has seen in Australia, with the support of race organisers and the Australian Paralympic Committee getting 13 athletes to the start line.

Two of the younger City2Surf competitors that will make the start line are particularly noteworthy, Perth's Madison de Rozario and Nathan Arkley from Adelaide.

Next year in London, Madison will be a Paralympic veteran at the ripe age of 18. Coached by Paralympic legend Louise Sauvage, Madison won a silver medal at the 2008 Beijing games and is a six-time world junior champion. And 16 year-old Nathan accomplished a feat last month that I didn't manage until I was in my twenties – a sub one hour 30 marathon. His feat is even more remarkable considering it was his first major international race.

The future of wheelchair athletics in Australia is bright and with the opportunity to race in front of local crowds, the journey is only going to be brighter for athletes like Jake, Rheed, Madison and Nathan.