At 24-years-old, Curtis McGrath was serving as an Australian Army combat engineer in Afghanistan when an improvised explosive device exploded beneath him. At that moment, he would have never thought that almost two years later to the day, he would be a world champion Para-canoeist, who now has hopes of standing on the medal podium for Australia at the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games.
On 23 August 2012, Curtis found himself 30 seconds away from death. The IED explosion caused multiple life threatening injuries, including the loss of his left leg below the knee and his right leg at the knee.
Despite fighting shock, blood loss and excruciating pain, it was Curtis, as the combat first-aid medic for his team, who instructed the soldiers around him on how best to perform first aid on his wounds. Incredibly, as he was being airlifted to safety he made a vow to his fellow soldiers that they would see him see him represent his country again, this time at the Paralympic Games in Rio.
After 18 hours in an Afghani hospital, the New Zealand native was flown to a US air base in Germany where he was prepared by medical staff to fly the long haul journey home to Brisbane. He was then in hospital for a further six weeks and eight days.
Although recovery was tough physically and mentally, Curtis learned to walk on his prosthetic legs in only three months, motivated to march with his unit during their welcome home ceremony.
With the encouragement and support of the Australian Defence Force, the medical personnel around him and his family, he has embarked on his journey to the Paralympic Games.
As a white water kayaker in high school, Para-canoe was a natural choice for Curtis. After linking with coach Andrea King, Curtis made his international debut at the 2014 Canoe Spring World Championships in Moscow, finishing the V1 200m event with a gold medal and a world record; his career highlight so far.
Having grown up in Queenstown, New Zealand, Curtis is a keen snowboarder and skier and also loves watching rugby. Despite wearing green and gold, he says he will always support the All Blacks. He is a passionate Crusaders fan, and is so superstitious about their results that he will never wear their jersey on game day in case he jinxes them.
As a tribute to the Australian Defence Force engineers killed in Afghanistan since 2001, Curtis wears a memorial bracelet with the names of eight soldiers; something he never takes off. Each time he competes, he looks at the bracelet, picks a name and dedicates the competition to that person.
Outside of sport, Curtis is a self-described movie buff and lists Avatar and Vikings as his favourites, as well Weight of a Nation, a documentary about the All Blacks in the lead up to their 2011 World Cup victory.
In 10 years time, he hopes to be a multiple Paralympic gold medallist and motivational speaker, and if he isn’t still competing, he hopes to be working in sport, building pathways for kids with disabilities.