Australia's head Paralympic swim coach reflects on CQU start

13 September 2021

It was four days before Christmas on the day of his CQUniversity Bachelor of Engineering graduation back in 1985.

What should have been one of the most memorable days of his life for all the right reasons' turned out to be quite the opposite.

On December 21' 1985' CQUni student' aspiring engineer and footballer Brendan Burkett was involved in a hit-and-run accident while riding a motorbike in Gladstone.

'On that afternoon I received my final results indicating that I had completed my degree'' Burkett recalls.

'At CQU I played rugby' ended up captain' coach of the U19 and president of the rugby club' so was keen on playing football in Europe' so a mate and myself were working two jobs to save up to head to Europe in the new year.

'Then I had the accident' so life took a different course.'

Burkett's leg was smashed in 13 places and resulted in amputation 10 days later.

While his aspirations were shattered' instead of letting adversity get in the way' Burkett turned it into opportunity.

'Living in regional Queensland we played football in winter and swam in summer'' Burkett explains.

'I really enjoyed swimming' was the age champion at school and ironman champion in the surf club.

'After the accident I couldn't run anymore so just focused on swimming. The rest is history.'

Only two years after the accident' in 1987' Burkett represented Australia at the Pan Pacific Para-Swimming Championships and continued on to become a champion swimmer' winning five medals at four Paralympics and a silver medal at the 1994 Commonwealth Games in Canada.

'I was lucky enough to lead the Australian team into the opening ceremony in the Sydney 2000 games as the flag bearer' then post 2000 to be on the team staff for the next five Paralympic Games'' he says.

Three years ago' he was appointed Australian Paralympic Swimming Head Coach.

'It was a great honour to be part of any Australian team and it is great to be able to give something back to the sport you really love.'

Burkett has just led the Australian Paralympic Swim team in an incredibly successful Tokyo Olympic campaign.

'It was an outstanding performance by the swim team' and of equal importance' the culture within the team was awesome' so hopefully that will inspire the next generation'' Burkett said.

Burkett has been recognised for his achievements and contribution to the sport including receiving an Order of Australia (OAM) in 1997.

When he's not focusing on the swimming duties' Burkett is busy working at the University of Sunshine Coast (USC) as the Director of High-Performance Sport and as a Professor in Sport Science (Biomechanics).

He has fond memories of his time as a student at CQUni's Rockhampton campus and says it helped him be where he is today.

'CQU had a good reputation for engineering which was the key reason for enrolling. I really enjoyed uni' playing football' swimming' surf lifesaving and a bit of study'' he jokes.

'CQU prepared us well for the workforce.'