Daring to drive despite disability
DISABLED Wardell speedway driver Luke Watt believes he has nothing to brag about despite the obstacles he has overcome to take part in the sport.
But the 17-year-old junior sedan driver has plenty to be proud of every time he gets behind the wheel of his car at Lismore Speedway.
Luke was born with sacral agenesis, a rare birth defect that affects the lower spine and leg formation.
He has spent his life in a wheelchair, but that hasn't stopped him from competing in Lismore and Grafton speedway events for the past three years.
He uses one hand on the wheel and navigates the accelerator, brake and clutch with his other hand.
"I have a rod next to the steering wheel that I use for a brake," Luke said.
"The clutch is like a handbrake and the accelerator is similar to a pushbike brake."
But his physical disability was not the only impediment to Luke's racing. He had trouble too with the Department of Sport and Recreation who were cautious in giving him his junior racing licence from Speedway Australia.
"I had problems with insurance and they were concerned that I wouldn't be able to get in and out of the car if there was an accident," Luke said.
"I passed the test and wasn't even the last one out when we did it at the training day in Lismore."
Lismore Speedway promoter David Lander vividly remembers Luke's first crash at an event in Lismore in December.
"The night he flipped there was dead silence and everyone in the crowd was really worried," Mr Lander said.
"They erupted when he got out okay and he's always done an excellent job behind the wheel."
When Luke was a toddler he was visited by Australian wheelchair racer Kurt Fearnley, who also has sacral agenesis.
Mr Fearnley won gold medals at the Paralympics Games in 2004 and 2008 and the Commonwealth Games in 2010.
In November 2009, he crawled the 96km Kokoda Track over 11 days in support of Movember and Beyond Blue.
Luke isn't sure whether he is ready to attempt a similar feat.
"I'd have to do a lot of exercise to get my arms ready for something like that," he said with a laugh.
Luke wants to be a professional speedway driver and one day live on his own farm.
And, although he does not often meet others with the condition, he has some simple advice for anyone with sacral agenesis looking to get involved in sport.
"Go out and try something and if it doesn't work out, try something else," he said.
Four-time Late Model national champion Brad Blake stood in disbelief when he watched Luke drive in a practice session last Friday.
"I can't believe it," he said. "It's hard enough with all your limbs."