HAVING competed at the highest levels of sport for more than two decades, wheelchair athlete Christie Dawes has been surrounded by inspirational and powerful role models for most of her life.
But the strongest, most resilient, and most influential of them all had been her mum, Roslyn Skelton.
"She has been through so much in her life, and I sometimes don’t know how she kept doing it with two young kids," she said ahead of International Women's Day on Friday.
The Merewether mother-of-two and six-time Paralympian said she had grown up on the western side of Lake Macquarie.
"There was my mother, father, my older sister, and me," she said. "We woke up one morning to find that, during the night, my father had taken his own life. We went to bed with a dad, and woke up without one.
"For my mum to deal with the death of her husband, let alone the way in which he died, is huge, but she just kept on. It was a very hard time, but the amount of strength she showed throughout that time was ridiculous.
"Then, 11 months later, we were going on a family holiday - my mother, my sister, and myself - and we had a car accident. And that’s when I became paraplegic."
Her mother and sister had both suffered injuries too. A court case followed.
"It was a lot," Ms Dawes said. "People always think you have to have a chair stuck to your arse or a leg missing or something to have a story, but so many people - everybody - has a story, and that’s ours. My mum is the strongest woman I know."
Ms Dawes said it was her mother that had been the calming, reassuring voice on the other end of the phone when she could not find her husband, Andrew, and their son, Charlie, following the bombing at the Boston Marathon in 2013.
"I couldn’t find my boys," she said. "They were out and about in it, and the first thing I did was ring mum - it was four or five in the morning here, and I just remember the panic she must have felt for me, but the real sense of calm that came through her voice while she was reassuring me. She is a good egg, my mum. She has shown me resilience. Taught me how to be calm in the face of adversity, and to have composure when facing challenges."
Ms Dawes has put her teaching career on hold while she juggles parenthood with training to compete at the Tokyo Paralympics in 2020.
She is also a budding property developer, and landlord.
She said the theme of this year's International Women's Day - 'more powerful together' - was apt.
"I am busier than I have ever been - I have a good amount of stress, just enough to keep me on my toes, but a great amount of balance.
"And I have great women in my life, supporting me.
"If I didn't have them, I'd be screwed. I also think it’s really important as a woman who is a mother, to never ever lose your sense of self when you become a mum.
"It’s so important to maintain your identity, to keep going with your own passions that drive you and keep you going too."
Ms Dawes said International Women's Day could seem "tokenistic", but as women were making bigger strides ahead in the world, it was creating more awareness and giving women the acknowledgement and the confidence to move forward towards their goals.
Lifeline: 13 11 14.
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