Turia Pitt was only 24-years-old when she signed up to compete in a 100km-long marathon in the Kimberley.
It was 5 September, 2011, when the young mining engineer officially started her race. Several hours later, Turia was trapped in a gorge, fighting for her life in the middle of a bushfire.
Turia was incredibly lucky to survive. She suffered burns to 70% of her body; her face, neck, arms, hands and legs were all affected.
For the past two years, she has been wearing a full-body compression suit and a mask – to help smooth out the scars on her face. Turia has spent countless hours in hospital and has had 16 operations to repair.
But last night, as part of a 60 Minutes special program, Turia has removed the face mask that has become her public physical identity since the accident. Take a look:
60 Minutes showed Turia sitting in front of a mirror, still saddens and despondent about what had happened to her. But more than anything, it was a celebration of her amazing triumph of survival.
“I’m glad I’ve worn it,” Turia said. “But now, yeah, I don’t need to wear it anymore.”
It’s been a long process for Turia to come to terms with the scarring on her face. On 60 Minutes last night, she spoke of the moment in hospital when she first caught a glimpse of her burnt skin:
“You know, I’d been asking everyone, “How do I look?” And they just said “Oh, you just look a bit different, but you’ll be right.” So I just thought, “Oh, okay, so I don’t have any hair, and I’ve – I just look a bit different. And then I saw my reflection in my iPad, and I just lost it.”
“Like, I was inconsolable. And there’s nothing that they could really say. And I also felt silly for caring so much, because I’d never considered myself to be vain, you know, because I’d always had nice looks, and I never thought about it, and I thought girls who spent ages getting ready, looking in the mirror, were a bit vain. And then I realised that I was – I’m just as vain as anyone else really.”
Turia is now on a mission to become once again content with her looks, despite the painful scarring she has endured.
“When I look at photos of myself from before, I just think, you know, bloody hell, I was actually really good looking,” Turia told 60 Minutes.
“And I’m a really determined person, so I’ll try and get as much of that back as I can. Yeah, I’m not just going to accept the way things are now and say “Oh, this is me, for the rest of my life”. No way.”
Turia is now spending time at a clinic in France that runs a 6-week intensive treatment course. They are a world leader in burns rehabilitation.
The clinic will focus on smoothing the scars on Turia’s skin and stretching her muscles.
Turia has also looked into various options for plastic surgery – a reconstructed nose, for example, or possibly a prosthetic one. And then there is the extreme method also discussed on 60 Minutes; a facial transplant. If it eventuates, the transplant would be an Australian first and would be an enormous step for Turia and her boyfriend, Michael, to take.
“It’s not just me that we’ve got to think about. Like, we’ve got to think about Michael as well, because he’ll have to look at that face. You know what I mean?” she says.