“I can’t…………… yet, Turia,” explains Celestine Vaite (Turia Pitt’s mother’).
When it comes to resilience, Turia Pitt is an expert.
Most of us have heard, or know of, the story of Turia Pitt; the young woman who sustained devastating burn injuries to 65% of her body in a wild bushfire in 2011 when she was competing in an ultra-marathon in the Kimberley in Western Australia.
I was lucky enough to hear Turia speak at the Master Builders Association, Women in Construction Lunch in Adelaide on 21 March 2018 – and, well, wow, what a legend!
For me, the thing that most stood out from her talk was the theme of resilience. There’s no question Turia has been through hell and back after her injuries; and to be able to compete in not 1, but 2 triathlons since her injury (or for most people, at all), is the stuff of legends.
But, in my opinion, fire or no fire, Turia was always going to succeed and make the most of her opportunities. Let me explain...
In an open and honest speech, Turia gave a wonderful example of how towards the end of year 10, as a 15 year old student that hadn’t really tried too hard a school, she decided to aim for a high score in her final year.
She decided to pick the traditionally hard subjects like Maths, Physics, Maths Extension and Chemistry. When Turia told one of her teachers about her subject choices (whom for the sake of the story, Turia called, Mr Smith), Mr Smith laughed and told her she just wasn’t smart enough.
Naturally she felt embarrassed and a loss of confidence. So against the judgment of her teacher and in spite of average grades to date, Turia saw this set back as a challenge and an opportunity to show Mr Smith what a mistake he had made in under estimating her.
Turia studied like mad, applied herself and went on to achieve a score in the 90s and top her class in most subjects. She later went onto study and become an engineer; and in the words of Turia Pitt, was able to say – “suck it, Mr Smith”.
Turia gave other examples of her determination and resilience, when her doctors and medical team advised her not to participate in the triathlon in Port Macquarie – but she did it.
She was challenged to climb 19 flights of stairs when her Dr said she wasn’t strong enough – she did it.
Amongst many other harrowing rehabilitation setbacks and pain and frustration, Turia Pitt trained for and competed and completed at Kona, Hawaii, in the most coveted ironman event in the world.
Turia’s biggest challenge at the moment is raising her 5 month old son Hakavai.
To achieve this daily, she offered simple, but wise words - explaining that you must start by swapping the word “have” to “get” - a sentiment that has completely changed the way she views the difficulties of parenting.
When thinking of the things that Hakavai needed or jobs to be done, she had previously had the thought process of “argh, I have to feed Hakavai”, “I have to change Hakavai”, “I have to wash Hakavai’s clothes” and everything felt like a chore.
When she realised that instead of thinking ahgrh and seeing those taks as tedious chores, she starting to see it as a wonderful opportunity. Instead her approach became: “I get to feed Hakavai”, “I get to change Hakavai” and “I get to wash Hakavai’s clothes”. This reframes these tasks and she explains, offers a constant little reminder just how amazingly lucky she is.
Turia says that when you’re feeling grateful, you can’t feel anger or envy or frustration at the same time. So, it’s better to just feel grateful.
Question time at the end of any talk can go either way – sometimes it’s like you could hear a pin drop as the deafening sound of crickets sets it.
But at the end of Turia’s talk, the audience were busting to ask her questions! I don't blame them. Turia is a phenomenal inspiration to us all, and there is so much we can learn from the way that she goes about her life!
My favourite question was from a lady who identified herself as being a mother of a 15 year old daughter. She asked Turia; what is one piece of advice you can give me about resilience, that I can pass on to my daughter?
Turia’s response was to use the phrase her mother, Celestine Vaite, used to say to her when Turia, in frustration would say, “Mum, I can’t do it”. She shared that, at times like this, her Mother would say, “You can’t do it……………. yet Turia”.
What Celestine meant was, if you can’t do something right now, in time, with enough application you can do it. From a very young age, enormous value was placed on working hard for the things that you wanted, but being strong and resilient through setbacks.
Turia spoke a lot about applying herself, and the challenges of doing so, but from our point of view - if she sets her mind to it, Turia Pitt, certainly can and will do it!