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A true story of triumph over tragedy

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Adversity makes us stronger.

A true story of triumph over tragedy, Curtis McGrath is a para-canoeist like no other. On the 23rd of August 2012, young soldier Curtis McGrath’s life changed forever. The decorated Sapper was two months into a tour of Taliban-rife areas of Afghanistan when he stepped on a homemade landmine, otherwise known as an IED (Improvised Explosive Device). The then 24-year-old tragically lost both his legs in the blast.

Curtis enlisted into the Australian Army on the 12th June 2006, at the age of 18. His focus immediately turned to Combat Engineering, a role that’s main aim is to “Provide mobility whilst denying the enemy mobility”. Duties range from building structures and converting seawater into drinking water for both the Army and the local populous, to destroying bridges and clearing mines and booby traps.

Thirty minutes after losing both his legs in an horrific blast in Afghanistan, in those traumatic moments as he was being stretchered from the bomb site, Curtis was already thinking about pursuing a career as an amputee athlete. Fully aware of his grim situation and partly to maintain consciousness as a survival mechanism, he joked with those helping him about becoming a Paralympian. He didn’t know what sport he was going to do, but his positive outlook and determination to rebound and get on with achieving his driving ambitions is what has made this man get to where he is today.

Curtis had lost his right leg above the knee and the left leg just below the knee. After a miraculously speedy recovery and rehabilitation process, Curtis was fitted with legs made by Otto Bock, a German company first started after World War I.

Previous experience

Sport: He tried his hand at a few sports but settled on canoeing, an activity he’d dabbled in at school.

Curtis only took up outrigger canoeing in January 2014 and has made it all the way to be one of the fastest sprint canoeist in the world. In 2015 the International Paralympic Committee made the decision to replace the outrigger canoe with the sprint kayak. Curtis has had to quickly adapt to the kayak to be eligible for the Paralympics. He trained 12 times a week during the build-up to the competition. This training was given by an elite kayaker and now Australian Paracanoe Coach Guy Powers. He had Curtis working hard right from the word go.

Awards: He's won gold medals at the ICF Paracanoe World Championships from 2016 to 2019 and a Paralympic gold medal in the Men's 200m KL2 kayak event at the 2016 Rio Paralympics.

In February 2017 Curtis became the first Paralympic athlete to be honoured by being named 'Sportsman of the Year' at the World Paddle Awards and Australian Canoeing Paracanoeist of the Year. That same year he was honoured with an Order of Australia Medal.

Media In 2018, Curtis was on the side lines of the Commonwealth Games to bring all the action to homes across Australia working with Channel 7 Sport broadcasting crew, along side some of Australia’s most recognised sports presenters. Curtis was also an ambassador for the Invictus Games 2018 in Sydney where he helped build the profile of the games and worked for the ABC on the broadcasting team with Chris Bath, Anthony ‘Lehmo’ Lehman and Dylan Alcott OAM.

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Goal setting & self determination



  • Inspiring Stories
  • Disability
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As a member of the Henzells Pelican Waters Foundation we recently had a Charity Golf Day with the definite highlight of the presentation Dinner being guest speaker Curtis McGrath. If you Google Curtis this is what you get, “Curtis McGrath is an Australian paracanoeist who took up canoeing competitively after having both of his legs amputated as a result of a mine blast whilst serving in the Australian Army in Afghanistan.” That’s what it says plus his story but to hear this guy speak is one of the most amazing things I have ever heard and when he finished there were 250 people giving him a standing ovation and he brought me and a few others to tears, he is an awesome individual and I felt very privileged to hear his story, I would definitely recommend Curtis for events such as these as he will and has left a lasting impression on those that witness his presentation. General Manager, Alex Surf Club
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