Curtis McGrath set to defend gold at Paralympics
Maggie Gray | August 18, 2021
“You will see me in the Paralympics,” – were the words Curtis McGrath promised his fellow soldiers as he was stretchered onto an emergency helicopter in Afghanistan.
The 24-year-old combat engineer immediately set his sights on his future after losing his legs in an improvised explosive device incident in 2012. Curtis McGrath’s story of resilience, strength, and dedication, is one that is recognised around the globe. Today, the Order of Australia recipient, Paralympic gold medallist, 10-time para-canoe world champion, and Gold Coast local, is gearing up to tackle a new challenge – defending his gold medal title at the 2020 Tokyo Paralympic Games.
How does it feel to be going into the 2020 Paralympic Games as a gold medal defender? Is there added pressure?
CM: Yeah, I guess there’s a little bit of extra pressure there knowing I’m the one with a target on my back and people want to take that Paralympic title off me. But it sort of makes you want to work harder and push yourself again and hopefully get that result of the gold medal. It will be an interesting time, but at the same time exciting, and challenging.
How much of a role did sport play in your recovery and rehabilitation process?
CM: Looking back, I think sport was a really important part of my recovery – it helped me find purpose. Everyone understands that doing a little bit of exercise makes you feel good, you know that there are physical benefits, but there’s also the emotional and mental side of things. Getting outside and getting some Vitamin D as well as communicating and having a bit of community around you to support you to do that activity are so important. Being a para-athlete, there’s always a few people behind the scenes helping you out.
“I’m very lucky to have found a sport that I love and enjoy and am able to live in an environment that caters for it so well.”
How often do you train, and what does an average week of training look like for you?
CM: We usually do two sessions a day minimum. Because it will be summer in Tokyo and very hot and humid, we’re doing heat training in the lead up. That involves sitting in a hot spa that’s 45 degrees and the room is 35 degrees as well – for about half an hour, just to get that acclimatisation and get the body used to being in that environment. And also doing some heat rooms exercise, as well as strength and conditioning gym training too. It’s a pretty big load, but next week we start tapering up and it gets easier and shorter and you feel more fresh as you get closer to the games.
How long have you been on the Gold Coast?
CM: I moved down from Brisbane after my incident to pursue paddling at the start of 2014. If there’s any place in Australia that I’d call home, it’d be here. I was originally born in New Zealand – as half the Gold Coast is – but at the same time it’s a marvellous place to call home, I really love it here.
Where on the Gold Coast do you train?
CM: The Pizzey Park canoe high performance centre in Miami.
How did it feel to have the most inclusive Commonwealth Games ever held in your backyard?
CM: It was amazing. I got to be a part of the Channel 7 commentary team that covered the Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games. I got to witness some really amazing performances and moments which really highlighted the power of the Paralympics athletes and the Games – so to be a part of that was really special.
What’s your favourite thing about living on the Gold Coast?
CM: I’m a Burleigh local. I love having access to restaurants and cafes in the area. It’s a really amazing place to live. I enjoy it in winter too – you can go outside any time of day and enjoy the sunshine.
What excites you most for the Tokyo Games?
CM: I’ve been looking forward to the Games in Japan ever since the Rio Games in 2016. The Japanese people do put on an amazing show. They have a culture of hosting and being so polite and humble and accepting of everyone that comes into their community. Hopefully all the training and time and effort and anguish of having a postponed Games is going to come through and we’ll be able to represent Australia well.
Which sport are you most excited to watch?
CM: There’s so many – probably wheelchair rugby. I don’t classify for it, but I’ve had the opportunity to play. It was so much fun and it’s amazing to see what those guys do and watch them perform against the world’s best. It’ll also be really interesting to watch track cycling. One of the cool things about being in the village is when the athletes come back – they’re just relieved in a way to have their event behind them and let their hair down – it’s sort of a big party.
What’s been your proudest moment as an athlete?
CM: I would have to say carrying the Australian national flag at the closing ceremony in Rio – that would be at the top of my list. There can be so many amazing performances at the Paralympic Games but there can only be one flag bearer, and that was my honour. It was something unexpected as a debut athlete in a debut sport. Having that honour was very special. It made me feel part of that community. Being a disabled person – it’s an exclusive club that any person can become a part of at any one time, so I think it needs to be reinforced to people that we’re all the same, we just have different opportunities and challenges we face each day.
Do you have any advice for aspiring para-athletes who might not have the courage or confidence to take their sporting dream to the next level?
CM: For me and the rest of the Paralympic team, I reckon just doing your best is okay. You don’t need to be a gold medallist or a Paralympian to be successful in your sport. You just need to go out there and give it your best. If you apply yourself to the best of your ability you should be content with your performance.
What’s next for you?
CM: I think this has been the longest season I’ve had in my life and the weight of the competition we’re heading to is so big so we’re doing heaps of extra training sessions, so I’ll be looking forward to some time off to hang out with my wife and one year old puppy!
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