Australia — A Melbourne ultramarathon runner badly burnt in a bushfire in the Kimberley is bravely returning to the scene of her ordeal.
Kate Sanderson is going back to raise money for the doctors who helped save her life.
In 2011, she came close to death in a rocky gorge, trapped by a wildfire with nowhere to go.
“It wasn’t until we were well in the gorge that we just heard this sound like the roar of a jet… and we looked up and there was this fire, a couple of hundred metres away,” Sanderson said.
She received burns to 60 per cent of her body and has endured countless operations since.
“I actually knew I was going to die, I just knew it, there was no way you can get out of a fire that’s come all the way around you,” Sanderson said.
“We all knew you’re not supposed to run in front of a fire, or run up a hill, but they were the two options we had, so we thought we’d go up the hill.”
Kate and five other runners hoped the summit would be rocky with shelter from the inferno raging at their backs.
They could not see that it was covered with grass until they were there, and it was too late.
“I literally looked behind and it was seconds away… I could feel the heat already, I didn’t have time to do anything just crouch into a little crevice.”
Alone and terrified, Sanderson tipped the last of her water over her head. Seconds later, fire was everywhere.
“My shoulder was alight, so I just stood up without thinking to pat it out, and the fire came round… and I just thought this is what it’s like to die in a fire,” she said.
“I started running and, because it was on such a steep hill, I fell and fell and fell… I think falling extinguished the flames.
“I got up and couldn’t believe I was still alive.”
The fire caused severe burns on 60 percent of Sandersons body.
Her friend Hal heard her screams and came running to find her.
“I could see by the look in his face that I was really bad, she said.
Sanderson said she just knew she was going to go straight into a coma when she arrived at hospital on looking at the severity of her injuries.
“My palms were like potato chips the skin was peeled up, I could see my legs just opened up.”
Sandersons close friend Turia Pitt was also severely burned.
Event organiser Racing the Planet failed to have a medical chopper on standby, forcing Sanderson and her fellow runners to wait an excruciating four hours until they were rescued.
After three weeks in a coma, she spent six months in hospital undergoing around 30 operations, and there are still more to come.
Sandersons left foot has been amputated and she’s lost all nerve function in her fingers, which has forced surgeons to fuse them so she can still use her hands.
For many, returning to the Kimberley would be unthinkable after this ordeal, but not for this remarkable 38-year-old woman.
Now, Sanderson is preparing to return to the Kimberley for the first time since her near-fatal ordeal, to ride the 700-kilometre Gibb River Challenge and raise money for the Royal Flying Doctors who helped save her life.
Determined to help the RFDS, Sanderson is hosting a public charity luncheon to raise money for the service that saved her life on March 15, hoping to raise $50,000.
“We’ll be using the money towards our aeromedical services, as well as primary health services, so some of our dental programs across the country running clinics in remote areas so all funds are certainly welcome,” Scott Chapman of the Royal Flying Doctors said.
The RFDS tends to a patient every two minutes around Australia a service that costs $270million per year to sustain.
A charity luncheon for the Royal Flying Doctor Service and Interplast, on behalf of Kate Sanderson, will take place on Saturday, March 15, featuring guest speaker Turia Pitt.
The event takes place at the Southern Golf Club on Lower Dandenong Road, Keysborough and costs $79 per person.