Kate Doughty: Change of course brings more success
KATE Doughty has never been one to let life's obstacles stand in her way, even one as significant as hers.
While others may have allowed being born without a right hand get the better of them, the fiercely determined Doughty has gone on to master two sports - equestrian and triathlon - not to mention the violin.
The inspirational 32-year-old is now on the verge of being chosen to represent Australia at the Paralympics in Rio in September in paratriathlon, incredibly just 18 months after taking up the sport.
However it would be a selection of no surprise to family and friends who began witnessing her amazing drive to succeed at whatever she put her mind to at age eight.
Growing up in the inner-eastern suburbs of Melbourne, she was in grade three when her school class was to learn to play the violin.
Her classmates anyway.
"The teacher said at the time I couldn't do it," Doughty recalled to Australian Regional Media.
"There was another girl who had Down syndrome ... the school's solution was to put her and myself in another room, and just play the recorder or something.
"My mum wasn't really happy with that."
And so Doughty was introduced to the myoelectric prosthetic hand, which, as she explained, would "open and close according to my wrist movements".
"I was able to hold the violin bow, and from there I just sort of figured out how to play, and actually really enjoyed it."
Not only that, she became so good at it she was invited to play at a major school concert at the World Congress Centre in Melbourne.
"I'm on stage, by myself, in front of over 1000 people … it was pretty cool," she recalled.
Born in 1983, the fact her right hand was missing was never detected during her mother Vicki's pregnancy, "and they're not sure why - it was just the way it happened," Doughty explained.
"I don't think my hand has ever been something that's made me think 'I can't do that'," she said, adding that if she did ever have negative thoughts, "I don't think it's ever been related to my hand. For me it's always been typical things growing up - 'I wanna be taller', 'I wanna look like the models on TV'.
"I never really found anything too much of an issue. Mum said I was quite tough, I'd just get in there and give things a go.
"Swinging on the monkey bars was always the key thing I wanted to do, but I couldn't really tackle that one well - that used to frustrate me.
"But, tying my shoes, doing my hair ... I could do it all."
Doughty also learnt to deal with bullies. "There were kids that used to say 'where's your hook?', and all this stuff," she said. "They always ended up in the principal's office … they didn't say much after that."
Part of a horse-loving family, it was natural for her to learn to ride, but there was plenty of "trial and error" before she began winning national titles and representing her country.
"I didn't know how to hold the reins for years," she explained.
"My brother was always the one doing pony club and that. I used to just brush the horses.
"We tried the myoelectric hand, but wasn't successful. I fell off once and the hand was still attached to the horse. It was quite funny. We decided that probably wasn't the best idea."
She eventually designed a system of loops that would wrap around her wrist and on she went … all the way to victory at the 2005 Australian Nationals, then contesting the 2008 Paralympic trials and the 2010 World Equestrian Games in Kentucky.
The tragic death of her mother Vicki, however, saw a dramatic change in course, swapping her boots and horse for lycra and a bike in 2014.
"It had a lot to do with it," she recalled. "She was a big part of my equestrian career.
"I also learnt with her dying at such a young age that life was short and could be taken away from you so quickly.
"I realised for me to want to try other things in life, I couldn't do some of the things I was doing before."
Doughty said she "always admired triathletes", but admitted "I didn't really know anything about the sport. I used to swim as a kid, but had never really ridden a bike … never really saw the point of running.
"I just did a little local race in Melbourne, and that was fun. I loved it."
Doughty finished second in her first major paratriathlon event, the Oceania titles, in January 2015, when she also met her coach, Corey Bacon.
"I've been training with him ever since, and just had huge success," she said.
A gold rush quickly followed with wins at the Australian championships and the ITU World Paratriathlon Event in Yokohama, Japan - her first race overseas - before she secured bronze at the world championships in Chicago, US.
Having been training at the Australian Institute of Sport in Canberra, the professional psychologist and management consultant has backed up in 2016 with further success at the Oceania and Australian titles in January to all but secure her ticket to Brazil.
The Australian squad will be named after the next ITU World Paratriathlon Event in Penrith on April 23.
"All going to plan, I'll be announced in that … (but) we're not there yet," she says, adding she won't be satisfied until she's standing on the start line in Rio.
When that does happen her thoughts will be with her mother.
"Someone said to me the other day, 'Your mum would be so proud of you', and I said, 'To be honest, I think she would think I was mad doing what I'm doing'.
"But, no, I think she'd be pretty happy, knowing I could be going to Rio in a sport that I had no insight or understanding of not even two years ago. It's been challenging, but so rewarding.
"I think that's what I love about the sport - you get back what you put in. If you're really doing the hard yards you see the results."