When Natalie Smith slipped on a rock while hiking Uluru in 2009, her life changed forever.
She suffered spinal injuries and became paraplegic.
“It’s not something you can ever prepare for,” said Smith.
“It definitely turns your life upside down.”
Three years later she won bronze in her first Paralympic Games in London in the women’s 10-meter SH1 air rifle event.
In August 2012, the same month the Paralympics were held, Curtis McGrath lost both legs when he stepped on an improvised explosive device while serving with the Australian Army in Afghanistan.
What happened next is now engraved on Australian sports folklore.
When carried to the Medivac helicopter on a stretcher with terrible, life-threatening injuries, he explained:
“You will see me at the Paralympics.”
True to his word, McGrath won gold four years later in the men’s 200m KL2 para-canoe in Rio.
It was Australia’s first gold medal at the event that McGrath later donated to the Australian War Memorial in Canberra.
Four years after McGrath’s accident, he won gold at the Paralympics in Rio.
Getty Images: Matthew Stockman
“It’s not where you would expect a Paralympic medal,” he smiled.
“If it were at my house, it would be on a shelf collecting dust and people wouldn’t see it.”
A tribute to the origins of the Paralympic movement
For McGrath, it is also a worthy tribute to the Stoke Mandeville Games, where the Paralympic movement developed.
The Stoke-Mandeville Games, held in July 1948, the day the London Olympics opened, allowed war veterans who were paralyzed to compete in the sport.
“Having my medal at the Australian War Memorial is kind of a tribute to those beginnings,” said McGrath.
“It also passes on what I have learned from my sport, what can be achieved and to give others the chance to experience it.”
McGrath donated his gold medal to the Australian War Memorial in Canberra. (
ABC RN: Tegan Osborne
The 33-year-old wants to defend his gold medal in Tokyo and compete in a new VL3 class in para-canoes.
“I didn’t feel any pressure going to the Rio games, I just wanted to experience it and enjoy the moment,” he said.
“Tokyo feels more like a test to me, but I’m really looking forward to the addition of another boat and just a crack.”
A third Paralympic for Smith
Smith will compete in her third Paralympic Games in Tokyo, where she will compete in a mixed rifle in the women’s standing 10m air rifle R2 and in the 10m prone R3 air rifle.
The 46-year-old qualified for Tokyo after winning a gold medal at the 2018 World Shooting Para Sport Championships.
She is now hoping to increase her Paralympic bronze.
“Bronze in London 2012 was just amazing,” she said.
“I didn’t expect to get a medal in my first few games.”
Smith with her bronze medal at the 2012 London Paralympics. (
Scope of delivery: Shooting Australia
Shooting in their genes
Interestingly, she wasn’t told by her father until Smith started filming that it was in her genes.
Her late grandfather Norman Lutz was appointed to the Australian Olympic team for Melbourne in 1956.
Unfortunately, Lutz had to retire after a heart attack.
“Dad says it’s a shame my grandfather is no longer alive because he wanted to see me shoot,” said Smith.
She finished fifth at the 2016 Paralympics in Rio, but her greatest achievement is better than any Paralympic gold medal.
Defy the odds
Despite all odds, Smith had their son Daniel in 2014 (
Scope of delivery: Shooting Australia
Doctors had warned that her chances of having children were slim due to her disability, but Smith defied medical opportunities to give birth to their son Daniel in 2014.
“Yes, he’s my favorite, even if he’s not that happy that I’m going to Tokyo,” she said.
“Hopefully we can tear him off his iPad to see the games and then he can say, ‘Look, this is my mother’.”
Smith also hopes to inspire other women in a similar position who want children.
“Everything changes as soon as you sit in a chair, but you never know until you try it,” she said.
“It may be hard, but it will also be the most rewarding thing you’ve ever done, so don’t be afraid to try something.”
Smith also returned to her sporting passion, horse riding.
Prior to her accident, Smith attended state-level equestrian events. (
Delivered: Natalie Smith
Before her accident, she started out as a dressage and eventing rider at the national level.
“I love my horses,” she said.
“It’s definitely a difficult sport in a wheelchair, but once you have a passion for something, it never goes away.”
With the help of an attendant and a lifting platform, Smith gets back on his horse, albeit a little differently.
“You never know, in a few years you might see me riding horses as a Paralympic,” she said.