The Courage to Try

Story by Brother Bill Firman fsc, Executive Director BoysTown, a charitable organization dedicated to assisting youth & families in Australia.

“One of the most inspirational stories I read a couple of years ago was about a young man called Bart Bunting. Bart is a former student of Oakhill College in Sydney. I re-print his story here as told in a College publication:”

In an interview with the Sydney Morning Herald after winning his first Gold medal at the Winter Paralympics, Bart Bunting (Class of 1993) said “It’s a little scary, not being able to see anything and going so fast”.

Our belief that, as well as being a world class athlete, Bart is a master of under-statement!

Bart, who has been blind since birth, won two Gold (Downhill and Super-G) and one Silver (Giant Slalom) medals at the Winter Paralympics. Bart’s best previous performance was two Gold medals at the 2000 World Championships in Anzere, Switzerland. An incredible accomplishment and all the more so when one considers Bart has been skiing for less than five years.

Bart is guided on the slopes by his long-time friend, Nathan Chivers. Nathan has a microphone in his helmet and a loudspeaker attached to his bum bag; verbal directions from Nathan are all Bart has to guide him as he skis downhill at speeds of up to 80 kilometres per hour. Stories are being retold of Bart’s escapades at school where he refused to allow his blindness to prevent him from participating fully in the life of the College.

Bart’s achievements have been recognised in many ways, including the issue of a special set of postage stamps by Australia Post. His medal wins helped put Australia in eighth place in the overall medal tally at the Winter Paralympics.

Bart, when not skiing, is studying Computer Science at UTS in Sydney.

The capacity of the human spirit to overcome disadvantage and achieve the impossible is extraordinary. I enjoy skiing but it takes every bit of my concentration to stay on my feet and not let those bumps in the terrain throw me off balance. Imagine trying to do that with no vision.

I have never met Bart Bunting and I don’t know his current circumstances. No doubt in his life there are ups and downs and I would guess he probably sees himself as rather ordinary and not a hero. But the Bart Buntings of this world possess incredible courage and determination.

My mother used to talk of her great grandmother who left England in the 1820’s bound for Australia on a sailing ship with three young children. On the way out, the children all died but she overcame her grief and had several more children. The most serious losses in life, the biggest challenges, are there to be over-come.

The Paralympics and the Bart Buntings of this world remind us what self-belief and determination can achieve. They do not indulge in self-pity. The Nathans of this world are also to be admired – lending time and talent to assist others. It is the capacity of a person to rise to such a challenge that is one of the finest qualities of the human spirit.

BoysTown is a very happy place to work. Surely, one might think, with all the people we meet who are in desperate need, it can be disheartening. On the contrary we get wonderful encouragement from the people who support BoysTown and we get inspiration from the efforts of many young people who take giant strides, once we help them with the first few steps. Getting started is the hardest part. Giving and receiving encouragement is also essential.

I love the words of John Keats:

“ I leaped headlong into the sea, and thereby have become better acquainted with the surroundings, the quicksand, and the rocks, than if I had stayed upon the green shore, and piped a silly pipe, and took tea and comfortable advice.”
I wonder how many people told Bart Bunting he was foolish trying to ski. I wonder how many advised him to be comfortable and safe from rocks and snow drifts. I wonder how many times I – or you – choose comfort before courage.

I recall that someone once said: “A leap in the dark often ends in the ditch.”

Does that really matter? What matters is that we have the courage to try again. What matters is that we always see hope. I invite you to enjoy another favourite saying of a friend of mine, favourite because it is so positive:

“Even dandruff is a sign of life”