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Ironman Turia Pitt's Awe-Inspiring Journey After Tragic Accident

The 29 year-old athlete's story of courage and perseverance is one for the books.

Turia Pitt’s story is one of strength and perseverance. Five years ago, while competing in an ultra marathon, the Australian mining engineer was caught in a wildfire that left her with burns on most of her body. Now, 29 year-old Pitt is an author, motivational speaker, and this past year, completed the Ironman World Championship in Kailua –Kona, Hawaii. Muscle & Fitness Hers was able to sit down with Pitt and discuss her incredible journey.

Muscle & Fitness Hers: Let’s start by telling the audience about your whole journey.

Turia Pitt: Sure, so I was a mining engineer working in Western Australia and I competed in an ultra marathon, which is 100 kilometers  (62.13 miles) in the outback of Australia. And about the quarter of the way, I was trapped in a grassfire, which burned 65% of my body, and I was evacuated to Concord hospital.

That’s actually part of the reason why I’m in America. When I got my injuries, there wasn’t any skin in Australia at the time. So they actually got skin from America and had it flown over to Australia. There was skin from 10 Americans, and that skin actually saved my life. 

It’s hard for people to understand, we all know what organ donations are for, but when it’s tissue donation, I think it’s harder for you to wrap your head around it. 

Hers: That’s incredible to hear, you’ve certainly had quite the recovery process. You’ve mentioned that you’ve gone through about 200 surgeries in the past five years?

Pitt: Yes, and they’re still ongoing. I actually just had a surgery 12 days ago. It was laser surgery to smoothen my skin, so it was pretty short. I think it comes back to mindset; I look at the surgeries in a positive way. I think about how I’m going to get to catch up with everyone in hospital, all the old nurses and doctors who looked after me. And I’ll get time off work, and the surgery itself is just working to improve me. That’s the sort of mindset I go into with surgery. And that’s also the kind of mindset I had with Ironman too. It’s all about how you look at things. For example, a lot of people might be scared of running a marathon after riding 180 kilometers (111.84 miles), but I just reframed it by telling myself “I’m the best at running, so it’s kind of saving the best for last.” 

Hers: Congratulations on finishing the Ironman Championship! I’m sure that was a very powerful experience. 

Pitt: Yes, actually that was the whole drive for my recovery, so that kind of kept me going. I think when you’re going through a tough time, it’s important to number one: look towards something else, so for me that was Ironman. I focused on that so I wouldn’t have to focus on being in hospital and what was happening to me and how my life had changed. And also if you help someone else, that will help you too. That’s happiness, number one, isn’t it? That’s also why I got involved with Interplast. 

Hers: Can you tell us about Interplast?

Interplast is a charity that provides free surgery to people who need it in developing countries. They provide various surgeries, for people with cleft lips, women who have had acid thrown on them, other burn survivors, and more. 

Hers: Have you traveled to any of the countries that Interplast works with?

Pitt: I’ve been to Laos with Interplast, and I’m going to Nepal with them next year. And it’s quite the experience. Some of the injuries you see are quite confronting. There was this man in Laos, who had a small burn on the back of his knees, and his scars were so bad, he couldn’t even walk. He literally had to walk around on his hands. And then he had surgery and he was able to walk again, for the first time in five years. He couldn’t work, and as a result couldn’t support his family. I’m not being dramatic, when I say it’s life transforming.

So getting back to one of your original questions, what gets me going, or what gets people out of a hole is: setting a stretch goal, doing something outside of themselves, and also helping others. 

Hers: You’ve also gone on climbing adventures for Interplast?

Pitt: Yes, we’ve done the Great Wall of China, and the Inca Trek. We also did Kokoda, a culturally significant walk in Australia, which was actually the hardest one of all of them. The terrain was really muddy.

The Great Wall was pretty awe-inspiring. That was my first climb so I was probably struggling a bit. It was crazy. We do base-camp next year at Mount Everest. 

Hers: Logistics wise, how is training different for you with the burns?

Pitt: Well, you need to have a plan and execute that plan, and this was especially true for Ironman because it’s such a long day. So my coach and I developed a heat management plan so it was like, stop at every station, douse yourself with water, wear your heart rate monitor so that if your heart rate spikes, you’re probably going too hard and you need to back off the intensity. So it was just kind of thinking about it, and then just following that plan. 

Hers: People sometimes tend to underestimate the power of the mind, and what you can accomplish when you set your mind to something. But for you, that’s been a big aspect of your recovery, and of your life as a whole. 

Pitt: When you say, “set your mind to it” that’s kind of a cliché, but it’s true! That’s why it’s called a cliché. You can do anything if you are really determined. And if you can’t do something, don’t be demoralized, just think about the problem and try to find the solution. And maybe the first solution you come up with won’t work. So just try another one. Once you start something, it gets easier. 

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