Vying for Ultimate Champion title

Lieutenant Kirby Watts will tell you herself that she only knows two speeds – full throttle or nothing at all.

CAPTIONLieutenant Kirby Watts trains for rowing events during the Warrior Games 2024 Team Australia training camp at the Australian Institute of Sport in Canberra. Story by Flying Officer Tina Langridge. Photo by Chief Petty Officer Paul Berry.

In 2022, a serious motorcycle crash resulted in seven compound fractures to her left leg, between her tibia, fibula, ankle and foot, which necessitated five surgeries in the past two years, ongoing rehabilitation and learning how to walk again.

Now she is about to contest eight individual sports – power lifting, cycling, shooting, archery, track and field, swimming and indoor rowing – in the hopes of being crowned the Warrior Games Ultimate Champion.

The Warrior Games is an annual adaptive sports competition that brings together hundreds of wounded, injured and ill serving and former serving military members to showcase their physical skills and mental toughness.

Lieutenant Watts’ partner, Joe, and their three children will be watching her progress at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at Walt Disney World Resort near Orlando, Florida, from June 21-30.

The 34-year-old Navy officer acknowledges her recovery is not complete. Further surgeries are likely; amputation is a possibility.

While she admits this is a tough concept for her to reconcile, let alone explain it to her two older children, Mia (17) and Clive (9), she is relishing the open and honest conversation.

“I feel like the games has created this freedom of speech where it’s OK to talk about what you want and discuss issues like quality of life,” Lieutenant Watts said.

“It has given me permission to accept the nature of my injury and start to move forward.

“Part of the reason I applied for the games was to break out of the loop of being in constant rehab and visiting specialist after specialist.

“It’s enabled me to rewrite my own narrative and rebuild my identity because the reality is you almost become a victim to your injury.

“This way, I get to use my injury to my advantage and do something interesting with my life.”

CAPTIONLieutenant Kirby Watts at the Australian Institute of Sport, Canberra, ACT. Photo by Flight Sergeant Ricky Fuller.

Not that anyone could accuse Lieutenant Watts of being humdrum.

She had her first child in Year 11, studied teaching full-time at university as a single mum and taught for 10 years before joining the Army in 2018 as an education officer and transferring to the Navy as a training systems officer earlier this year.

In between, she gained and lost 50kg, had two more children, including 11-month-old Fleur, took up marathon running and, of course, relearned how to walk.

Which brings us back to the Ultimate Champion title.

“Because of the nature of my injury, I have severe limitations,” Lieutenant Watts said.

“The last time I tried to run was at the selection camp and I did a very Forrest Gump-esque 100-metre run. It felt good because it was the first time I’d actually tried to put one foot in front of the other with a bit of pace since my accident.

“I remember breaking down on the track, and I just had the whole team cheer me on. It was incredible. They were incredible. I have never felt so supported.

“For me, crossing that 100m finish line at the games will be my biggest redemption,” she said.


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