ROLLING thunder, pouring rain, he’s coming on like a … hurricane.
Nanjing Night Net

He is Kurt Fearnley, a man for all seasons, and he is nothing less than the toughest, hardest and most polyvalent sportsman in Australia.

Sure, there are a couple of State of Origin players who are a cross between granite and teak. But how long would they last playing the game as Fearnley once did, on his knees, bringing down rampaging opponents with round-the-ankle tackles as “a low-lying fullback, who got them when they weren’t looking”.

And yes, we have one or two boxers who can give and take a hard punch with the very best – but could they cover the Kokoda Track, crawling, as Fearnley did in 2009, or take their place in a Sydney to Hobart crew, using only their arms, as he did last year?

We also have athletes who have proven themselves to be world-class, but none on the edge of accomplishing what Fearnley will attempt tomorrow – to be the world champion in his chosen discipline for just under a decade, triumphing everywhere from New York and Seoul to Paris, London and Sydney and in three successive quadrennial world tournaments.

For on Sunday morning at 11am, London time, the newly married 31-year-old from the central western NSW town of Carcoar will be going after his third straight Paralympic gold medal for the marathon, and he is in no doubt that he is facing “far and away the toughest challenge of my career”.

Surely not harder than crawling along the Kokoda Track?

“Much harder,” Fearnley says flatly. “The Kokoda Track took me 11 days and then it was over. For this one, I have been intensely training twice a day, six days a week since the first of January, through all weathers, all conditions. It has been an agony, but I have done it because this is the one I want to win more than anything.”

Making things a little more problematic for this race is that his form in the shorter Paralympic races of the 5000m, 1500m and 800m has been off, and in the latter race, “My arms felt sluggish.”

But no matter.

“I have spent the time since rectifying it, getting my arms right.”

That has included resting a lot in bed, having his arms massaged, iced and compressed and having his wife, Sheridan, do a lot of the pushing of his wheelchair, so that, whatever else, those arms will be fresh when the gun fires.

“They are my pistons,” he says simply, “and I am their engine. I am ready.

“For four years, I’ve dreamt of one thing, and if the only thing I have to overcome to achieve that dream is pain then that is nothing.”

His greatest rival will be London’s hometown hero David Weir, who Fearnley acknowledges is “a great athlete, in great form, at a great time for him. But that only motivates me more”.

And what will his wife say to him as her last words before he rolls out to face his destiny?

“The same thing she always says to me before every race. She says, ‘run like you stole it!’ And that’s what I am going to do.”

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