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Disability advocate named NSW Australian of the Year

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Globe-trotting wheelchair racer and passionate disability advocate Kurt Fearnley has added another feather to his cap as NSW’s nominee for the 2019 Australian of the Year.

The Newcastle local, who won the men’s marathon T54 at the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games in April, edged out Newcastle Herald investigative journalist Joanne McCarthy, the Mark Hughes Foundation’s eponymous founder and robotics professor Salah Sukkarieh.

Fearnley, 37, will head to Canberra in January for the naming of the Australian of the Year.

Though his near-two-decade-long sporting career put him on the map, Fearnley has a long history of using that platform to advocate for people with disabilities.

The tireless father has sat on the National Disability Insurance Scheme’s Independent Advisory Council, the board of Australian Volunteers International and the Australia Day Council of NSW.

He is currently a board member of the Australian Paralympic Committee.

The highlight of Fearnley’s sporting year came in front of a home crowd at the Commonwealth Games, where he won gold in the wheelchair marathon, silver in the men’s 1500m T54 and later carried the Australian flag at the closing ceremony.

It added to his extensive list of achievements that includes three Paralympic gold medals, seven world championships, 35 marathon titles, and membership of the 2012 Sydney to Hobart yacht race winning crew.

In October, he became the first athlete with a disability to take out Sport Australia Hall of Fame’s prestigious Don award for inspiring the nation through his achievements and example.

Sprinter Cathy Freeman, swimmer Ian Thorpe, jockey Damien Oliver and hurdler Sally Pearson also appear on the star-studded list of Don winners.

Athletics was a theme for other recipients of NSW Australian of the Year awards on Monday.

Race-walker Heather Lee, 92, was named the state’s Senior Australian of the Year nominee while Sophie Smith, the founder of charity Running for Premature Babies Foundation, was named the state’s Local Hero.

NSW Young Australian of the Year was social entrepreneur Jarrod Wheatley, 30, whose two not-for-profit organisations help vulnerable people find safe homes and fulfilling work.


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