The countdown is on for school leavers all around the country, with just 30 days to go until Schoolies officially kicks off on the Gold Coast.
But behind every excited Schoolie, there are parents worrying about their child’s wild week away. Will they eat, will they behave, will they make smart choices?
This week I met Kate Fitzsimons, the director of The Nicole Fitzsimons Foundation, which she established with the aim of raising awareness of travel safety among young Australians. Kate’s life was changed forever when her sister Nicole tragically died after a motorbike accident in Thailand, and she has a message to send to all year 12 students before they embark on their Schoolies adventure.
Thank you for talking to me, Kate. Sometimes there’s such a bad stigma surrounding Schoolies, yet it’s such a great industry for the Gold Coast. I used to think that when my daughter was ready for Schoolies, I’d offer her a trip overseas or a car instead, but now I think Gold Coast Schoolies is quite safe. Tell me the story of your sister, Nicole…
It was this time two years ago when Nicole took off to Thailand. She was working at Channel Nine and The Footy Show and had one of the best years of her life so she went over there to relax. It was October 19 and we were just like every other Sydney family, hardworking and fun loving, but when we went to bed that night we woke up to a call saying my sister had been involved in a serious motorbike accident in Koh Samui, Thailand. Since then our lives have never been the same, really.
She did tragically die in surgery about three hours later. She wasn’t wearing a helmet when she was riding and she never would have done that here because she was actually scared of bikes, yet you see all the locals riding over there so you think it’s safe, and tragically she suffered the consequences of that.
How long do you think it took you before you were out of the numb “this cant be true” stage?
To be honest, sometimes I still go back there. But through establishing the Nicole Fitzsimons foundation and sharing her story I’ve been able to feel quite empowered. It’s quite therapeutic for me, knowing I’m potentially saving lives and educating kids on how suddenly the unthinkable does happen anywhere in the world, but particularly in the countries where their relaxed safety standards do put us at a greater risk.
The ‘celebrate safely’ message is so important, given there are drugs, scooters, balconies and all sorts of other avoidable tragedies.
100 per cent! I think that’s the most powerful part of my presentation, I do help to shatter that invincibility. Teens think, ‘We’re 18, we know we could fall off a balcony, we’re not silly, but we genuinely think that won’t happen to me or my family’. The kids say they see these stories on the news but they just think they’re only stories, whereas I share my family’s story and they get to feel what we went through losing a loved one so tragically and so young. It opens their eyes and makes them think twice.
Nicole’s smile reminds you to always put your safety first. If I can help save one family from walking down the road we have, then to me, it’s so worth it.
6000 schoolies pour into Bali each year, and you’ve made it your mission to head around to the schools of Australia and educate kids by telling Nicole’s story. Has it helped heal you?
Absolutely. I don’t know where I’d be today without it. Last year I started out in a corporate job and I left it behind because I knew there was a journey to be had with Nicole’s foundation.
We actually have video footage of the accident and when you see their faces you realise it happened out of nowhere. Using this powerful footage, and my passion for public speaking and honoring my sister, I thought this foundation had to happen.
It’s helped heal my whole family and it’s carried Nicole forward with us because she was destined for huge things in the media and working with Channel Nine, so just knowing she’s still touching hearts and making a difference is why I get out of bed every morning.
I mean, it’s no consolation, but Nicole is living on and doing extraordinary things through you and your family.
Definitely, and when I have an off day I just think of her smile beaming down on me.
Where can people donate to The Nicole Fitzsimons Foundation to help you continue talking at schools around the country?
My presentations are entirely voluntary so every donation is appreciated. You can donate on our website, nicolefitzsimons.com; your donation will help with the cost of taking the presentation around Australia because I’ve been everywhere from Perth to Darwin and up here in Queensland.
For those that are about to head into Schoolies, whether it be here on the coast or overseas, what’s the number one message you have for them now?
Please remember you are not invincible and the unthinkable can happen to every one of us. I just pray that with every decision you’re making while you’re celebrating, please put your safety first and look out for your friends. Don’t pressure each other into reckless behavior. And please don’t let you or your friends become another statistic.