Kurt Fearnley and Christie and Andrew Dawes hope their new-look training base, officially opened and named in their honour on Monday, will pave the way for better facilities for wheelchair athletes everywhere.
The trio were on hand to open the Fearnley Dawes Athletic Centre, rebranded from the Newcastle Athletics Field in Newcastle West to coincide with the resurfaced track’s unveiling.
An $800,000 state government grant led to the much-needed renovation, which included the creation of an outside lane dedicated to wheelchair racers. It is believed to be only the second athletics track in the world with the feature.
Newcastle Paralympic and marathon wheelchair legend Fearnley said the dedicated track would not only help prolong careers of existing athletes but create new ones in the sport.
“It’s good for our longer life in the sport,” Fearnley said. “It’s a bit more gentler on our wrists and elbows to push around on the smoother surface.
“I can’t believe how it’s turned out. I came here for a school carnival this morning and it’s great to see. And when a kid in a wheelchair goes to that school, there’s no barrier for him to be able to jump into that sport and be able to be equal amongst his peers, or even quicker.”
Australian wheelchair team coach Andrew Dawes, whose wife Christie is a six-time Paralympian, believed the dedicated lane would encourage others to take up the sport.
“Kurt and Christie have done amazing things over the last 10, 15, 20 years, but now we’re going to have a whole new range of athletes coming through as well,” Andrew said.
He hoped the example set in creating the wheelchair track would prompt other governments and councils to follow suit and “in a few years there’s not just two in the world”.
Christie said “we are really privileged to have a choice of surfaces to train on” – the relaid “spongy blue track” and smooth outside lane.
Rio Olympic marathon runner Scott Westcott said “it’s just a dream come true” to see the new surface unveiled but it was crucial for the community to invest in it to ensure its future.