Medallist realises Paralympics dream

Loves the outdoors: Curtis McGrath, left on a Wakatipu High School tramp in 2006. PICTURE: WAKATIPU HIGH SCHOOL

An Aussie Paralympic champion’s an ex-Queenstowner.

Canoeist Curtis McGrath, 28, won gold in the men’s KL2 200m sprint while wearing Australia’s green and gold colours in Rio.

The ex-Wakatipu High School pupil moved across the ditch to join the army. Four years ago, he lost his lower legs to a landmine in Afghanistan.

He was born in New Zealand and spent some time in Western Australia, before returning to New Zealand for high school.

McGrath made a real impact at the school, Wakatipu High School outdoor education teacher Ken McIntyre says. In his final year at the school he won the Bruce Grant Memorial Trophy for Outdoor Education.

‘‘His mission was always to go into the armed services and it was just a matter of which one,’’ McIntyre says.

‘‘The Australian services, of course, just offered so many more opportunities, particularly if you wanted to go away to conflict.

‘‘I’m not sure if conflict was necessarily what he wanted but he understood that if you take on the uniform you have to put your body on the line.’’

McIntyre says it was traumatic as the news trickled back about the accident, but he was able to message him afterwards. Upon realising he was not going to die, McGrath almost straight away made it his goal to go to the Paralympics.

Top athlete: Curtis McGrath training in Dunedin in 2013 PICTURE: OTAGO DAILY TIMES
Top athlete: Curtis McGrath trains in Dunedin in 2013

He did just that, going on to win his final in 42.190sec, a boat length ahead of six-time world champion Markus Swoboda, of Austria.

Bronze-medallist Nick Beighton had a link to the school too, as his sister had worked there.

Beighton had a similar accident where he lost his legs in Afghanistan while serving for the British armed forces.

McIntyre taught McGrath in years 12 and 13 and is still in contact with him.

‘‘He comes over [to New Zealand] quite a bit. He’s got lots of family connections and lots of friends.

‘‘He’s got his army friends and they look after each other, his company are very tight. They would always try to get to his events, send a representative.

‘‘He’s got a lot of friends from school that live in Queenstown and two of them went across [to Rio] to surprise him.’’

He says he was one of the better pupils to come through the school.

‘‘He was just a strong all-round sportsman and outdoorsman.

‘‘He learnt to kayak through our programme and he did quite a bit of extra stuff. He had a bit of a liking for slalom kayaking and running rivers.’’

He was not sure when he would next get a chance to talk to McGrath, who now lives in Brisbane.

‘‘He’s a busy man. He’ll be a lot busier now, I would imagine. So I don’t know. If he comes to Queenstown we might catch up, but I’m an old man now and he’s a young man.’’

Otago Daily Times