Three-time Paralympic gold medallist Kurt Fearnley has been named the 2019 NSW Australian of the Year.
Fearnley, 37, retired from international wheelchair racing this year after a remarkable 20-year career, having proved time and again that disability is no barrier to an indomitable spirit.
His final outing in the green and gold was on home soil at the 2018 Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast, where he crossed the line first in the men's marathon race.
It was a fairy tale ending to career studded with medals, including three gold, seven silver and three bronze at Paralympic Games, four golds and a bronze at the world championships, and three golds and three silvers at the Commonwealth Games.
In an emotion post-race interview, he urged younger athletes to use the platform of sporting prowess for positive endeavours.
"“If I can say anything to the next people coming up wearing the green and gold, when you get near a microphone, when you speak, err on the side of kindness, how about that?," Fearnley said.
Fearnley, who hails from Newcastle, was born without part of his spine.
He has used his profile to champion the rights of people with disability, and this year was awarded with an Officer of the Order of Australia for his "distinguished service to people with a disability".
In 2009 he famously "crawled" the unforgiving 96 kilometres of the Kokoda Track to raise awareness for men's health. In 2011 he crewed on the winning yacht in the gruelling Sydney-Hobart yacht race.
Fearnley was bestowed with the honour at an award ceremony held at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney on Monday night.
Heather Lee, a 92-year-old Australian Masters walking champion, was named the NSW Senior Australian of the Year. Lee, who is from Richmond in the Hawkesbury region, currently holds eight Australian records and five world records.
Jarrod Wheatley, 30 year old social entrepreneur from Surry Hills, is the NSW Young Australian of the Year.
Mr Wheatley was recognised for his role in founding Professional Individualised Care, a not-for-profit organisation which pioneered a new model of out-of-home care for foster children with high needs. He also founded Street Art Murals Australia, which aims to support artists to break the cycle of criminalisation by commissioning murals and workshops.
Sophie Smith, the founder of charity Running for Premature Babies, was named the 2019 NSW Local Hero.
Ms Smith and her husband Ash began a fundraising juggernaut for the Royal Hospital for Women’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, after they lost all three of their prematurely-born triplets within two months of birth.
The charity, which fields the largest team in the SMH Half-Marathon, has helped raise over $3 million for life-saving neonatal equipment. After her husband lost his battle with brain cancer in 2016, Ms Smith has continued to grow the foundation while raising her two young sons.
National Australia Day Council chief executive, Ms Karlie Brand said the NSW Award recipients were inspirational for their achievements and contributions.
“The NSW Awards recipients’ stories serve to remind us all of our own ability – whether that’s in challenging our own potential, helping others achieve their potential, using our experiences to support others or challenging the perceptions people have around what is possible,” said Ms Brand.
The recipients will represent NSW at the national awards on January 25, 2019 in Canberra, where the four Australians of the Year will be announced.