Can-Do-Ability: Answers and Solutions from my personal experiences of living with a disability

‘Superhuman’ Paralympian Left To Crawl Through The Airport To His Plane

25 Nov 2009Paralympian Kurt Fearnley, who has just completed his 10 day journey by crawling his way along the Kokoda track in Papua New Guinea, has been humiliated by Jetstar after they told him he had to check his wheelchair in along with his baggage at the same time, leaving him without his chair. He was given the option to use an airport chair to get around in but he refused its use and was left with the only other option of crawling around the airport until he boarded his flight.

In honour of all the men who lost their lives in Papua New Guinea during World War II, which began in 1942, Kurt wanted to not just complete the Kokoda track, but crawl it without assistance. Saying that many men had to crawl through it with missing limbs, gunshot wounds and being chased by their enemies, so what he was doing was easy compared to what they had been through all those years ago.

The gold medal Paralympian prepared for the 92 km crawl through rough terrain and crossing over more than 20 rivers, by climbing up and down 50 to 100 flights of stairs a day.

Kurt, who grew up in a small NSW town near Bathurst, called Carcoar, was accompanied through the crawl by trek leader Wayne Wetherall and 14 of his family and friends, who he is very close to.

He worked with a boot maker to make up some specially designed shin pads and gloves to make his journey easier.

Kurt was born 28 years ago with Agenesis, which stopped his spine fully developing in the womb, this caused him to still have feeling in his legs, but they would not be strong enough to carry his body weight and he is unable to walk.

He has had huge support from his family and has gone on to win countless wheelchair marathons, gold and silver medals and has even set new records.

Kurt is raising money during his participation in the New York Marathon and crawling the Kokoda track for Movember which supports and raises awareness for men's health and depression. He and his team have so far raised over $28,000 for this important charity.

Finishing his trek on the 18th November at Owers Corner, the southern end of the track, he relaxed back with his parents and had a couple of beers to take in what he had just accomplished.

Unfortunately just one weekend after returning from his amazing crawl along the Kokoda track, Kurt has been a victim of dodgy airline policies. He was told to check in his wheelchair with his luggage at Brisbane Airport's Jetstar check-in counter.

The staff offered him an airport wheelchair but he refused to use it, he was reported saying that there was no way he was going to be pushed around by someone through the airport, as these chairs can only be operated by an able bodied person. He chose to crawl around the airport until he boarded his plane. Kurt said the equivalent of being pushed around in an airport chair is having your legs tied together, your pants pulled down and being carried or pushed around. Jetstar has since apologised for the embarrassment Kurt may have endured.

I have flown with all different airlines many times and as recent as the weekend. I have never had to check in my chair with my baggage nor would I agree to, I can't stand using the airport wheelchairs as they make me feel out of control and helpless.

On my recent trip to Melbourne, I chose to wheel my own chair into the entrance of the plane and then I got out and walked down the aisle to my seat. The chair can be taken down at the last minute and stored in the front of the baggage compartment so I cannot understand why Jetstar made it so difficult for Kurt. If they still insist on people using airport wheelchairs, they should at least have some with motors for the more independent passengers like myself and Kurt.

In a related story, I read of a man on a Jetstar flight who had to be hospitalised for 6 days after he was being pushed by a staff member and was injured when the chair ran into a curb on the way to the plane. This is another issue that they should consider, most disabled people have adapted to doing things their own way and if someone who isn't experienced is in control of pushing them, that's when accidents can happen, I know it's always been a concern of mine.

Kurt Fearnley

Training to crawl the Kokoda Track

Kurt in his Movember shirt - Mo Bro

The kind of obstacles he came accross along the Kokoda Track

Climbing up a hill along the Kokoda Track

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Previous Comments

wheelchairs from india posted on 19 Apr 2011
I really appreciate your post and you explain each and every point very well . Thanks for sharing this information . And I'll love to read your next post too.regard:wheelchairs

Greeta Ahart from San Francisco posted on 8 Jan 2010
Hi Jodie ~ Thanks so much for your inspirational stories & work. I really admire what you & Kurt Fearnley are doing. Although I myself am regularly abled ~ my friends say "sighted" & we joke how boring that is!! I work at the LightHouse for the Bli

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