SPORT is replete with stories of courage, personal vindication and overcoming great trauma.

Torita Blake is such a story.

Blake, 25, is a proud indigenous woman from the Dunghutti tribe and Paralympian. Her specialty is the 400 meters.

Blake was born on 5 July 1995 in Moree, New South Wales. At five weeks old, she was emergency flown to a Brisbane hospital by the Royal Flying Doctor Service. Staff feared for the life of the infant, such were her injuries.

Blake had stopped breathing, sustained a broken collarbone and severe brain trauma, resulting in cerebral palsy.

She is blind in her right eye and only has 10% vision in her left eye. And she has epilepsy.

If the staff suspected infant abuse, it did not prevent them from sending the infant back home.

A home where the perpetrator of the original violent shaking, her stepfather, groomed her for a decade of sexual abuse.

“And still my whole life I’ve tried hiding behind a smile,” Blake confessed. “But not anymore. For the first time, I’m going to be totally honest about who I am.”

It is those fighting qualities, defying death as an infant, the horrors of sexual abuse, that has made her a champion Paralympian, looking to qualify for her third Paralympic Games in Tokyo.

Blake also suffers from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, panic attacks and depression from her experiences.

Symptoms of chronic anxiety, mood disturbance, intrusive thoughts and visual imagery, nightmares, behavioural disturbances and depersonalisation. All of which she is managing with counselling and medication.

But it is sport and its ability to help individuals find a purpose and rise above adversity, that has been truly therapeutic.

Blake trains six days a week and has a rigorous gym program.

Telling the truth and finding the courage to do so has proven to be catharctic.

Blake was only seven when her stepfather first abused her. Her innocence ripped away from her.

“Just a little girl,” a pensive Blake said.

Her stepfather has since been jailed for 12 years.

“For so long, I said nothing,” she said.

What she did, was run. Fast.

Not to escape her past, but to leave it behind and look forward.

Blake found inspiration through the exploits of another famous indigenous runner, Cathy Freeman.

“I remember I watched Cathy Freeman as a school assignment in grade four, so that was back in 2004, and I watched her 400m, so I always wanted to run the 400m. And then I started doing athletics, but I was like you won’t be able to go to the Olympics, without being too negative, it was more a realistic thing. I knew of the Paralympics, but I didn’t know I would compete in it. In 2010 or 2011 I was like ‘that’s what I wanted to do’.”

Imagine trying to run in a straight line, at top speed, with palsy, epilepsy and blindness. She recalls a blurred “funny looking white line.” Despite some teasing from her classmates, Blake persisted. Driven to succeed.

“As soon as I was old enough to get away from the house, I went running,” she said.

It was not without its dangers. Numerous falls, a near collision with a car that claimed her beloved dog, Dorothy.

It did not stop her. “It was my healing.”

“Even when kids laughed at me… Or when running on the road, I almost got hit… I just had to keep going.”

What makes Blake’s journey even more extraordinary is the fact that early in her career there was no coach, no spikes, but she still found a way into the 2012 London Paralympics.

It was later diagnosed that she had been running with 11 stress fractures in her leg.

The physical determination has now been matched by her psychological strength to give a voice to the issue of sexual abuse and its sequelae. One in six Australian women have been reported to experience physical and sexual abuse before the age of 15.

The perpetrator is often a family member or well known to them.

“Which is something, as Australians, we need to speak about,” Blake opined. “My first statement I gave to police in December 2016, was because I didn’t want anyone else going through what I had.

“What scared me the most was when I found out my stepfather had a girlfriend. She had six kids. And I didn’t want any of them going through what happened to me.”

“What happened to me as a baby, I still don’t really know. For a long time, everyone said I’d been born that way.

“It was only much later that I learned the truth, that my stepfather was actually jailed (for grievous bodily harm) and then, after his release, returned to my life again.

“Which even now leaves me feeling a bit lost sometimes.”

If Blake was lost, she has reclaimed some semblance of her identity through her love of running.

“I’m still here. I’m a full-time athlete. I’m a Paralympian.

“And no matter what happens in my life, no matter what others do or say to me, I can still achieve the goals I set for myself. I can still be happy.”

Blake also finds time to support several initiatives.

Blake is an ambassador for the Raise the Bar Academy, a program run by Athletics Australia and Melbourne University, for indigenous secondary school students. She said “I’ve always wanted to inspire and show my heritage off. I’d like to be a mentor to indigenous kids and also kids with disability in sports. I want to represent Australia, but also my community and my culture. If I can show young indigenous kids you can do something, that nothing can stop you, then that’s extra special for me.”

Blake is also an ambassador for Deadly Choices, a health promotion initiative of the Institute for Urban Indigenous Health.

“Parents ask themselves: what can there be for my kid to do?

“So that’s why I want to tell all of my story. Tell people that I have been sexually abused. That I have been the victim of domestic violence as a baby.”

“But I never cared what anyone said.

“I just kept running.”

 

Image via The Courier Mail

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