sports

Gold medallist Kelly Cartwright: "It was unknown whether I'd walk again, let alone run."

This is the second instalment of Mamamia’s ‘Sport Siren’ series – where we will shine a spotlight on a brilliant Aussie athlete every single Saturday.

This is Kelly Cartwright’s story…

Returning to work is daunting for any new mum, but when your job requires hard-core workouts seven days a week, not to mention the possibility of overseas travel, it’s especially formidable.

Kelly Cartwright has never shied away from a challenge, however.

The Paralympic gold medallist was 15 years old when she was diagnosed with synovial sarcoma, a rare form of cancer in her leg.

With no option for chemotherapy or radiation treatment, the Geelong teenager, who dreamed of being a national netball star, was told her best chance at survival was to amputate part of her right leg.

“There was the unknown of whether I would even walk again, let alone play sport,” Cartwright told Mamamia.

“It happened so quickly, my life was turned upside down within seconds.

ADVERTISEMENT

“I loved netball… as a little girl, I had dreamed of playing for Australia and that was still my dream at the time.”

For many, that would have been it, but Cartwright refused to give up.

Not long after being fitted with a prosthetic leg, she was running again and within a year-and-a-half had new sporting aspiration: to be an elite Paralympian.

At 27, the sprinter and long-jumper has represented Australian in the Beijing and London Paralympics and claimed two medals at the latter.

“As cliché as it sounds, it’s a dream come true,” she said.

Kelly competing at the London Paralympics in 2012. Source: Getty

While an injury forced the athlete to take a break – and the birth of her son Max has kept her busy since January 2015 – the world record breaker is hoping to be back for the Paralympic world championships in London in June.

"I train seven days a week, most of the time Monday to Friday twice a day, and a session on Saturday and Sunday. It’s a full-time job, it’s full-time gig," Cartwright said.

"I think the biggest challenge will be having to go away from for competitions and qualifiers, I’ve never had to do that and leave someone behind before."

Thankfully she has her husband Ryan, as well as both of the couple's parents, to back her up.

ADVERTISEMENT

"It’s a relief once you’re there and once it’s over. The hard work and the ups and down are all worth it when you’re there on the world stage in front of your friends and family – everyone who helped you get you there – it’s a great feeling."

Despite her busy schedule, Cartwright is also a dedicated ambassador for Rare Cancers Australia; their annual Mount Kosciuszko Challenge is coming up on March 18.

The challenge raises awareness – and funds – for the 42,000 Australians diagnosed with rare forms of cancer each year, many of whom die for lack of viable treatment options.

"We still get stuck with the stigma of it being so rare there’s not enough funding and we don’t have the answers that we need to get a cure," the young mum said.

"It’s got to change."

ADVERTISEMENT

One thing Cartwright believes is changing for the better, however, is Australian sport, which is finally beginning to give credit to some of its lesser-known athletes.

"Being in the Paralympics and being surrounded by other Paralympians ... they’re the ones who inspire me, I am in awe of a lot of them," she said.

"You get questions and you get stared at. People assume you can’t do a lot of things, but disability in sport is moving forward, just like women in sport is moving forward.

Here's what went down in Round 3 of the AFL Women's competition (Post continues after audio...):

For those who might be up against physical– or societal hurdles – she said this:

"Believe in yourself and surround yourself with people who want to see you succeed and support you. Ignore anyone who might doubt you or tell you, you can't.

"You only get one life and one chance, so do what you love."

In 2017, Mamamia is committed to covering all aspects of women's sport. Check out more of our sports stories here.

You can learn more about the 2017 Kosciuszko Challenge and support Rare Cancers Australia through their website.

00:00 / ???