Engineer Turia Pitt draws on her own experiences of overcoming adversity to motivate others.
In 2011, 24-year-old Turia Pitt was competing in a 100 km outback ultramarathon when she became trapped by a grass fire that ripped through a narrow gorge in Western Australia’s remote Kimberley region.
Engulfed by a wall of flames, she sustained horrific burns to 65 per cent of her body and was airlifted to hospital in Darwin where she was placed into an induced coma to allow her body to fight life-threatening infections.
Her survival was remarkable, yet what is perhaps more extraordinary is her determination to rebuild her life.
Pitt was less than a year into what she describes as her “dream job” as a short-term planning engineer at Rio Tinto’s Argyle Diamond Mine in the East Kimberley region when her life turned upside down.
She spent six gruelling months in hospital and underwent more than 200 operations. She wore a full body compression suit and a mask for the next two years and had to relearn basic skills, such as walking and feeding herself.
She said being an engineer helped her rehabilitation.
“Engineers are very good at looking at problems objectively, and, as hard as it was, that’s how I dealt with my recovery,” Pitt said.
“If I did my physio sessions and I wore my compression mask and I went to the gym and I read books by other people who had overcome adversity, then I would be better off. It wasn’t rocket science. I just broke the problem down into steps that I could take every day.”
Determination was also vital to Pitt’s recovery. In fact, this trait saw her go from an average high school student to top of her HSC class and then graduate with a double degree in mining engineering and science from the University of New South Wales (UNSW).
“My high school teacher laughed at me when I told him the subjects I wanted to do,” she said.
“He said I wasn’t smart enough. If someone tells me I can’t do something, it drives me to prove them wrong. So I studied my arse off.”
After graduating from UNSW in 2010, Pitt landed her role at Argyle.
“I love solving problems and I love being outdoors, and that’s how I decided to become an engineer,” she said.
“I only worked there for a year before my accident, but I just loved it. My role involved reconciling the mine’s short-term plans with its longer-term plans.”
Although she was one of few women employed at Rio Tinto’s mine at the time, Pitt believes the challenges facing female engineers are similar to those in most industries.
“I don’t think the challenges are unique to engineering,” she said.
“Women are the ones who have kids and have to take time out of the workforce, and it’s assumed that child-raising is their responsibility.”
Pitt said women must be consistent and keep their eye on their end goal to overcome barriers.
“When I was first in hospital, I couldn’t even stand up by myself, but what I really wanted was to be able to run again,” Pitt said.
“I just focused on being consistent and concentrated on the small things that I could achieve every day.”
Against the odds
In the early days of her recovery, doctors doubted that Pitt would walk, let alone run again, but her determination proved them wrong.
She completed two Ironman competitions in 2016 and has gone on to become a celebrated motivational speaker and mindset coach. In December 2017, Pitt and her partner, Michael Hoskin, welcomed their first child — a son named Hakavai.
As an ambassador for Interplast Australia & New Zealand, a not-for-profit organisation that provides free reconstructive surgery and medical training to communities in need in the Asia-Pacific region, Pitt has helped raise almost $1 million in donations.
At Engineers Australia’s International Women’s Day event in March 2019, Pitt shared her remarkable story and the valuable strategies anyone can employ to achieve their goals.
“A cataclysmic event happened to me and there was nothing that I could do to change it, so I focused on the steps I could take to create a better future for myself,” she said.
“Engineering has played a huge part in how I recovered.”