'He looked just like the baby we should be taking home'
YEPPOON'S Kirsten Mckessar has known pain far greater than she endures in her gruelling crossfit training sessions.
Her perfectly toned arms, rippling abs and muscular legs are the result of months of hard work fuelled by an unimaginable loss.
On June 25, 2010, Kirsten and husband Luke lost their son Carter in childbirth at a New Zealand hospital.
"We went to hospital to have a perfectly healthy baby and as he came through the birth canal he suffered a massive haemorrhage and subsequently died shortly after birth," Kirsten explains.
"It was absolutely the most heart-wrenching, difficult moment of our lives because he was perfect in every other way. He looked just like the baby we should be taking home.
"It was an extremely traumatic experience but it's definitely what led me to where I am now."
While overwhelmed by grief, Kirsten and Luke realised they had to keep going for their other two boys, Blake and Fergus.
"It was totally heartbreaking, but we knew we had to get up and get on with life and help our boys through it as well," Kirsten said.
"Otherwise it would have become a double tragedy because we were all they had and if we shut down then they would have been lost as well."
The brave parents needed to find an avenue for their anguish and decided to run a marathon to raise funds for Ronald McDonald House.
Seven months to the day after losing their beloved baby boy, they completed the 42.1km course, raising $15,000 for the non-profit organisation that helps seriously ill children and their families in the process.
Kirsten said that started the fitness journey for them both.
"We did lean on each other a lot and we used each other to get through," she said.
"We would be on a training run and one of us would break down on the side of the road but the other one would say, 'Come on, we're doing this in Carter's memory' and we would just keep going.
"Having a focus and a goal did help to alleviate some of those horrendous feelings.
"I was grieving but found that having an outlet of fitness and exercise allowed me to actively grieve, if you want to put it that way."
The Mckessars were then blessed with the arrival of their fourth child, Marlie, in March 2012.
"In the process of having her, we found out the reason Carter had died was because I have a rare blood disorder," Kirsten said.
"When we had her, we decided we wanted to make a fresh start and that's when we moved to Yeppoon."
Kirsten's parents were living in the coastal town and through regular visits, she and Luke had also fallen in love with the place.
They packed up and moved across the Tasman, ready to start their new lives in Central Queensland. Luke started as a FIFO worker in the mines at Blackwater.
Kirsten and Nikki Perrin, who had known each other for just six weeks, decided to buy Jungle Gym, the business they have successfully owned and operated for the past five years.
It was through her involvement in the fitness industry that Kirsten met her crossfit coach, Elisha Manion, two years ago.
The idea of crossfit appealed immediately.
"I like the competitiveness and I like being able to push my body to its absolute limit," Kirsten said.
"I actually find it therapeutic - and I know people might find that a little bit crazy.
"I can push through into that deep pain cave by using Carter's memory and knowing that his death was the single, most painful experience of my life and nothing will ever hurt me like that again."
Kirsten won the Masters division of her first competition in Rockhampton last year.
In September, she enjoyed similar success at the Masters Games on the Gold Coast in September. Her next event is this month in Melbourne when she competes in the finals of the Aussie Throwdown, where she is currently placed third.
"I like the fact that yes, I'm 41, but you don't have to be 15 or 21 to be at your peak fitness.
"You shouldn't think you're too old for something because you're never too old.
"I'll be up against some top-quality athletes who are also in their 'prime' and I'm really excited to go and stand alongside them and certainly give it my best shot."
Kirsten's dream is to go to the Crossfit Games in America, a goal she hopes to achieve in the next two years.
She describes herself as stubborn, passionate about the things she cares about, and hard-working.
Clearly, these are traits that have fuelled her success in personal, business and sporting ventures.
But she says her greatest motivation continues to be the memory of Carter.
"I think of him all the time. While I am very sad that I'll never hear what his laugh sounds like or I'll never see him do the things that I wanted for him, to be able to think of him when I'm trying to push through a dark place really helps me.
"My message to people struggling with grief is to take one day at a time and if that's too much then one hour at a time.
"Find something that you can channel your grief into. It doesn't have to be exercise, but just find an outlet and really try to channel some of your feelings into that."