There’s no question that burns survivor Turia Pitt is one of Australia’s most inspirational and courageous people. At 24, the mining engineer had her life turned upside down when she was trapped in a grass fire while competing in an ultramarathon in Western Australia. She suffered full-thickness burns to 65 per cent of her body. Doctors didn’t think she would survive and she ended up spending six months in hospital, underwent numerous surgeries and spent two years in recovery, which saw her wear full-body compression suits and masks.
However, regardless of the challenges life has thrown at her, Turia has gone on to become a motivational speaker, write multiple books, launch a business or two, compete in Ironman twice and raise two beautiful boys, Hakavai, two and eight-month-old Rahiti, alongside her fiance Michael Hoskin.
Now, nine years down the track the 32-year-old has opened up on how she overcame her accident and found happiness in her new book Happy (and other ridiculous aspirations). Speaking in an exclusive chat with Starts at 60, Turia reveals she set out to write the book after realising the word happiness came up a lot in her day-to-day life.
“Well, I wrote most of this book in 2019, while I was pregnant with my second son,” she says. “I’d set out to discover whether happiness was an aspiration worth pursuing because, for almost a decade, people have asked me a lot of questions about happiness.
“They wanted to know how I was so goddamn happy, damn it, and how they could get some of it too. And I think what they were really asking was: how can you survive a grassfire, suffer burns to 65 per cent of your body, have your life and appearance fundamentally changed, and still, um, be happy?”
So, what is happiness? Well, according to Turia, it’s more than a goal or destination.
“I don’t think we ever arrive at Happiness Train Station and say, ‘Yes! We’re here!’,” she reveals. “I think happiness is instead a wiggle line.
“It’s dependent on and impacted by life events that are often out of our control (although most of these events, whether they’re winning the lottery or getting divorced or getting injured during an ultramarathon, don’t have as big an impact on our happiness levels as we might imagine). It’s how we deal with both the events we didn’t see coming, and the ones that are in our control, that’s key to our ability to enjoy our lives.”
But it hasn’t been all smooth sailing for the athlete. Turia also opens up on how Australia’s recent bushfire crisis hit a bit too close to home for her, both physically and emotionally, revealing she was initially “terrified”. However, Turia says she managed to shift her focus away from herself and with the help a friend launched an initiative aimed at supporting communities affected by the blazes.
“From my house in Ulladulla, there was no power, there were ashes raining down in our yards, and we were trapped by fires burning to the north, south and west of us,” she adds. “And of course, I was terrified, I was anxious, and my focus was solely on me — I was obsessing about how the fires were affecting me. And I knew that for me, to navigate this super stressful time, I had to change my focus.”
And the mother-of-two, who lives in Ulladulla, New South Wales, with her two boys and fiance, hasn’t let lockdown get the better of her either, revealing she’s enjoying the slowness of 2020, and spending quality time with her family.
“Look, the pandemic has affected my work and my plans for 2020, but I’m enjoying the slowness of 2020, and the ability to really savour time with my young family, and look, relatively speaking, I’ve got it pretty good,” she says. “We don’t live in a city, we live on the coast, and we’re surrounded by our friends and family.”
Turia and her long-term partner Michael have been engaged since 2015, and have been a couple since 2011. Turia welcomed their first son Hakavai into the world in December 2017 and gave birth to their second son Rahiti in February this year.
“I always describe motherhood as being contextual: some days are incredible, full of laughter and happiness,” she admits. “Other days are harder — my baby might be teething, my toddler might have a tantrum, I might be run down.”
Asked if she has plans on walking down the aisle anytime soon, Turia replies: “Well look, Covid’s hit the world so right now, I’m not sure many people are getting married.”