Story transcripts

Beating the Odds

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Reporter: Peter Overton

Producer: Phil Goyen

We thought we'd had our share of triumphs. Seen the fastest, the strongest, the greatest athletes in the world.

Well, let us tell you, you ain't seen nothin' yet.

The magic's happening all over again, as 170 Aussie paralympians begin their quest for gold in Beijing.

No doubt, there'll be some fantastic success stories to tell as the Games progress.

But we guarantee none will compare with the two you're about to see. They're awesome.

Let's hear it for Kelly and Kathryn, two remarkable young women who never gave up, who fought and fought for the ultimate sporting glory.

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Studio photographs taken by Pam Hutchinson Photography.

Full transcript:

INTRODUCTION PETER OVERTON: I thought we'd had our share of triumphs - seen the fastest, the strongest, the greatest athletes in the world. Well, let me tell you - you ain't seen nothin' yet. The magic's happening all over again as 170 Aussie Paralympians begin their quest for gold in Beijing. No doubt, there'll be some fantastic success stories to tell as the Games progress. But I guarantee, none will compare with the two you're about to see. They're awesome. Let's hear it for Kelly and Kathryn - two remarkable young women who never gave up, who fought and fought for the ultimate sporting glory.

STORY: PETER OVERTON: Kelly Cartwright is about to step boldly onto the world stage. You like Kelly's teeth, don' you.?

KELLY CARTWRIGHT: They better be good - mum paid $4,500 for braces.

PETER OVERTON: With the looks of a model and a lust for life, this bubbly 19 year old is rarely without her smile. Kelly's discovered a whole new life from the depths of devastating personal trauma. Do you get self-conscious at all?

KELLY CARTWRIGHT: I used to get self conscious a lot, like wearing shorts and things, but now it's what I've got and what I have to live with - so why not let people see it.

PETER OVERTON: And lots of people will see Kelly when she swaps this Geelong training track for the Olympic Stadium in Beijing. An estimated global audience of 1.5 billion people will witness her Paralympics debut. Using a special carbon fibre blade to run in the 100m sprint. What's it like not having a leg?

KELLY CARTWRIGHT: I don't remember having two legs, to be honest. I always think about - imagine if I woke up with two legs tomorrow, I'd probably fall over. I wouldn't remember how to walk.

PETER OVERTON: Kelly's part of our 170-strong team going for gold in China. So too, is rower Kathryn Ross. both girls chosen to represent their sports at the team's official launch.

KEVIN RUDD: I think what's inspirational for all Australian is people saying 'no' to the obstacles.

THERESE REIN: Yeah, just blasting through them, KEVIN RUDD: Let's just push them to one side.

KATHRYN ROSS: We don't see... well, I can't speak for you but I don't see myself as having an obstacle.

PETER OVERTON: Like Kelly, Kathryn has overcome incredible odds to wear the green and gold. When she was a toddler, an accident left her right leg virtually useless. Now, just one year after stepping into a boat, she'll represent Australia in mixed rowing. What's it like to know you're going to represent your country?

KATHRYN ROSS: Every time I think about it, it's like a knot in my stomach that works its way up, it's an unbelievable feeling. I never thought I'd ever make it to something like this. I've gone from someone who had to learn to walk a million times over and someone who was never really picked for certain things at school.

PETER OVERTON: From school yard struggles to one of the biggest sporting events on the planet. Remarkable for anyone but especially for Kathryn and Kelly. At 15 years of age, Kelly Cartwright had an ideal life. The popular Year 9 student was doing well at school and playing top-grade netball then her knee started to hurt.

KELLY CARTWRIGHT: It was the most painful pain I've ever felt.

PETER OVERTON: Excruciating?

KELLY CARTWRIGHT: Very painful, very, very painful.

PETER OVERTON: First doctors diagnosed growing pains then a cyst but the reality was much, much worse. Kelly had synovial sarcoma in her right leg - a rare and aggressive form of soft tissue cancer.

KELLY CARTWRIGHT: My whole world spun around and my whole life ahead of me and the unknown of what was gonna happen now that's I've got cancer And, I guess the first thing I thought about - Am I going to die? Am I not going to live this life any more?

PETER OVERTON: In many cases, it's a fatal cancer and resistant to chemotherapy. At just 15, Kelly was faced with little choice - unless doctors amputated, she was likely to die.

KELLY CARTWRIGHT: I just said, "I'd rather die than get my leg amputated."

PETER OVERTON: What was making you think that? Is it self image?

KELLY CARTWRIGHT: Yeah, probably being vain and worrying too much about what other people think.

PETER OVERTON: A devastating thought with so much life ahead, but just imagine what it was like for Kelly's parents Bill and Jan watching their little girl facing a life-and-death decision.

JAN CARTWRIGHT: To hear your daughter say, "Id rather die", just... You just want take her place and say, "Well, let it be me" - you know, and not her.

KELLY CARTWRIGHT: I just looked at mom and she started balling her eyes out and Dad's face, I'll never forget the look on Dad's face.

BILL CARTWRIGHT: I would have given everything to be in her place. Anything in the world but it wasn't to be.

PETER OVERTON: The most they could do was be by her side for the worst of it and the very worst was the morning of the amputation. What was the drive like to the hospital?

KELLY CARTWRIGHT: Oh, I asked mum millions and millions of times to turn around and go back home. I remember sitting in the hospital going, "lets go back home". I know how hard that would have been for them knowing how I felt saying "Please Mum, can we just go back home. I don't want to do this, I don't want to do this, but I knew I had to do it. I don't think if they turned around I don't think I would have gone back anyway because I know that I wanted to be alive.

PETER OVERTON: Kelly had to learn to walk again with a prosthetic leg. It was a tough, painful process. To ease the way, Kelly adopted a special friend to share the journey. Yes, a three-legged cat called Jamaica.

KELLY CARTWRIGHT: He's good - he gets around, he catches mice still. He does everything like a normal cat would.

PETER OVERTON: It took five months, quicker than most but this Year 10 student had a goal - her debutante ball.

KELLY CARTWRIGHT: I was still a little bit self-conscious about what people thought, so I got a specially made dress so you wouldn't see my leg and I did have a fair bit of a limp But I think everyone was just amazed to see me out there walking so soon.

PETER OVERTON: I bet you were amazed too?

KELLY CARTWRIGHT: I was. It was probably the best night of my life. I loved that.

JAN CARTWRIGHT: It was so emotional, it was just really... just had this really old, old leg on that had huge straps around it - it was so heavy. To see her dance - oh, just couldn't believe it.

BILL CARTWRIGHT: What really blew us away was right at the end when she curtsied. She actually got down and curtsied - yeah.

JAN CARTWRIGHT: Yeah. it was great.

PETER OVERTON: Can you still see her dancing, Jan?


BILL CARTWRIGHT: It's pretty vivid, isn't it.

PETER OVERTON: Kathryn Ross remembers her debutante ball vividly too - a milestone many people thought she would never make. When she was two, she was accidentally run over by a ride-on mower driven by her father. To this day, her right leg is virtually useless.

KATHRYN ROSS: My kneecap is shattered and it currently is still shattered, it's in bits everywhere. I've got a couple of screws that have been there since I was 10 years old And the ankle is fused and depending on the weather, I may get slight movement out of it but otherwise it's completely fuses.

PETER OVERTON: Playgrounds can be ferocious environments, how was it for you with the disability?

KATHRYN ROSS: It was quite difficult in some stages. I got things from big foot, retard, hoppy, skippy, cripple. You name it - I probably got it.

PETER OVERTON: Two decades later, and more than 30 operations since the accident Kathryn has marched on from the cruelty of school-yard bullies. This girl from Warnambool has had to put her passion for pipe bands to one side as she prepares to row for Australia. Is there sense now, I'm 27, I'm off to the Paralympics and just have a look at me now.

KATHRYN ROSS: I always expected to get somewhere but to get here is the absolute pinnacle. And it's wonderful to be able to say to those people who ever said anything nasty to me, or upset me or anything like that, said I couldn't do anything. It's great to say, "Look at me now, I'm shining."

PETER OVERTON: And a big part of that bright outlook is because of the man sitting behind her - Kathryn's rowing partner John MacClean. This bloke has swum the English Channel, competed in the gruelling Hawaiian Ironman and raced at the Sydney 2000 Olympics and he's a paraplegic. How's the build-up to Beijing going? Do you feel strong as a team?

KATHRYN ROSS: Strong, very strong. Very pleased at the moment PETER OVERTON: Positive thinking is all part of the training. And what better place to focus the mind than Sydney's Olympic rowing course where so many champions have stood before.

KATHRYN ROSS: John and I went and sat on the podium, it's a bit silly but were visualising that we're doing and we sat on the top and we visualised that there was a crowd in the stands.

JOHN MACCLEAN: So we're good enough to do this, right?



KATHRYN ROSS: Four weeks.

JOHN MACCLEAN: Give me some skin.

PETER OVERTON: But Kathryn's certainly not going to win gold with me in the boat. How am I going?

KATHRYN ROSS: You need to turn your oar a bit more.

PETER OVERTON: I can't talk and row.

KATHRYN ROSS: It's a skill, John doesn't do it either.

PETER OVERTON: At least we're not in the water, Kathryn. This sport isn't as easy as it looks. Back in Geelong, as Kelly Cartwright prepares for Beijing, her biggest worry is writer's cramp. Everyone wants to meet this gorgeous girl and get a closer look at her secret weapon - that carbon fibre blade. What are you running a 100m in at the moment?

KELLY CARTWRIGHT: I qualified in February with a time of 17.62.

PETER OVERTON: And where's that stand in the world ranking?

KELLY CARTWRIGHT: In the world rankings at the moment, I'm ranked fourth.

PETER OVERTON: In the world?

KELLY CARTWRIGHT: So that's the fourth-fastest time in the world.

PETER OVERTON: Hey, you're the real deal.


PETER OVERTON: Thankfully, when I took to the track with Kelly, she'd swapped to her walking leg. She can't go as fast but it's just as high-tech with a price tag of $62,000. Now this has a battery in it, doesn't it?

KELLY CARTWRIGHT: Yeah, so I have to remember to charge it every night, I get my mobile phone and my leg and I try and charge them at the same time. One time, I forgot to charge it the night before I was walking around Geelong and it slowly started running out on me and I was shopping. And I was walking around like this, because the knee started to lock up, You need to charge it to get the swing happening.

PETER OVERTON: So the batteries went flat and how were you walking?

KELLY CARTWRIGHT: Like this. Probably how I walked in my old leg.

PETER OVERTON: You're a pretty special young lady.


PETER OVERTON: Ten more laps. These young women are more than remarkable athletes they're remarkable people. You just know they'll give everything for their country in Beijing but in so many ways - they've already won.

KATHRYN ROSS: I mean, the road has been long throughout the years but I've finally made it at 27. It's pretty unbelievable.

PETER OVERTON: Did you ever envisaged this when you lay in your hospital bed?

KELLY CARTWRIGHT: No, never. Never would have thought that I would be training so hard to get to achieve something that I wanted so bad. I never thought I would be training twice a day, six days as week and actually striving for something. In the hospital, I didn't have anything to look forward to at all. Now I have everything to look forward to - the rest of my life.

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