Luke’s going for gold

Luke’s going for gold

791
Luke Purtill with ‘Resilience’ – a 13-year-old wild-captured horse from Mt Weld. Luke has another horse called ‘Tenacity’.

Serpentine equestrian Luke Purtill has always pushed the limits of what is possible.

His determination and resilience in the face of adversity has now propelled him to the point of international stardom.

Next month, the 24-year-old will fly to Winchester, in the UK, to represent Australia in dressage at the Virtus Open European Equestrian Championships.

Virtus is the International Federation for elite athletes with an intellectual impairment or autism.

This is only the second year Australia is sending a team of intellectually impaired riders to compete on a global level. But our reputation for greatness precedes us.

Last year, the nation looked on as Australia took home the gold at the Virtus Global Games in France – the very first live equestrian event of its kind.

After that monumental victory, the world’s eyes will be on the eight riders who make up Team Australia this year.

But Luke Purtill is equal to the challenge.

Luke was born with 22q11.2 deletion syndrome – “which amounts to a speck of missing chromosome that makes a big difference,” Luke’s mum Robyn said.

In order to be in the saddle at all, he has overcome chronic ill health and endured countless surgeries because of complications to do with his syndrome.

But nothing was ever going to get between Luke and horses.

“It’s my world,” he said. “I’ve been riding since before I can remember.”

Robyn said Luke was born with “horse desperation in his eyes”.

“He just has a natural affinity for them. It’s as if he speaks horse.

“And Luke is so much more abled than he is disabled.”

Luke started his horsemanship journey through the usual pony club route. Then about 10 years ago he took up dressage and never looked back.

“It’s a super physical sport – it’s as much about strength as it is about strength of mind,” Robyn said.

“But Luke always puts his all in.”

Originally hailing from the NT, Luke quickly pushed up against the limits of his hometown. As the only competitive equestrian with intellectual disability in the NT, Luke needed to either compete in mainstream competition, or travel interstate to compete in Special events.

In 2022, Luke secured a place on Queensland’s state team, and in doing so became the first Territorian to compete at a Special Olympics national competition.

He earned two silvers and a bronze for his efforts, but fractionally missed out on national selection.

Last November the family made the call to leave their home behind and migrate to WA, opening up a world of possibilities for Luke.

“It’s been the biggest six months of our lives,” Robyn said. “But we realised that in WA we could make things happen.”

And the local community and wider equestrian community has already taken the family under their wing.

“They’ve completely accepted us,” Luke said.

Luke has been receiving invaluable training from Alfred Fitzi of Sagamore Horses in Pinjarra, and support from Sharon Jarvis – one of the most experienced and skilful Para-equestrian riders in the country.

“There’s an incredible Para community here in WA,” Robyn said.

“It’s just amazing when you can surround yourself with enablers.”

When Luke received the news four weeks ago that he had been chosen to wear the green and gold in Europe, he was over the moon.

“It’s a huge honour,” he said. “It’s been a goal to represent Australia for a very long time.”

But his excitement is tempered by “overwhelming nerves”.

Luke will ride on a borrowed horse in a much smaller arena than those he’s used to, which will require him to draw on hidden wells of focus and calm.

“I’m going to see how it goes but I’m hoping for gold,” he said.

“And I’m curious to meet the horse I’ll ride.”

Win or not, Luke will never give up on his ultimate goal: “to inspire people to be the best they can be, whatever they choose”.

Robyn has no doubt that her son will shine in his first overseas competition.

“He’s been working up to this for his entire life,” she said.

“And I’m so proud of him.”

But while Luke is planning and training hard each day leading up to his flight in three weeks’ time, him Mum is hard at work trying to fund his journey to greatness. This is a self-funded trip for all eight of Team Australia’s riders.

“We could really do with a sponsor,” she said. “It’s a very expensive sport and there’s not much funding.”

Any local businesses willing to get behind this rising star are welcome to get in touch with Local Member for Darling Range Hugh Jones at (08) 9525 4822.