Awoken in the dead of the night while a loved family member is overseas is a fear we all have. Safe travels and a safe return home is the hope that we all have when wishing our loved ones a bon voyage. For Kate Fitzsimons, waving her sister off to Thailand was an average mundane activity. Never in a million years did she think of the worst. That was until she got a chilling phone call in the middle of the night informing her that her sister, Nicole, would never be returning home to Australia. At the young age of only 24, Nicole Fitzsimons had been killed in a tragic motorbike accident.
The future was holding its hand out for Kate to take. A young business student, hopeful to achieve greatness in her corporate career. Everything was going to plan, and her studious efforts were paying off. After being accepted into a graduate program for marketing, Kate was pleased with the cards that life was dealing her. However, it was her weekend nights she treasured most, where the bathroom became a sanctuary between Kate and Nicole. The powerful aromas of hairspray and perfume would glaze their haven. Here they would get ready for their social events and gossip about boys, strengthening their indestructible bond.
Kate looked up to Nicole, who was a beacon of passion and encouragement to all of those around her. With a love of journalism, NRL and dance, her family express that Nicole was destined for great achievements. As a valued member of the ‘The NRL Footy Show’ on Channel Nine, Nicole was advancing in her journalism career and looking towards a life beside her partner, Jamie Keith.
Kate’s description of her sister is an endless list of adjectives that all radiate infinite admiration and devotion. Kate still remembers however, the bold personality that Nicole had, which could drive her crazy at times.
“She was so loud. From the moment she walked in the house, the way that she walked, she talked at a ridiculously loud volume that wasn’t necessary, and it drove me crazy. Now, I’d do anything to hear it again,” Kate explains.
October 20th, 2012. A phone call in the early hours of the morning invites panic in like an old friend, as the Fitzsimons family learn of the tragedy that has occurred in Thailand. Their prized family member, Nicole, had been killed at the hands of a rouge motorbike rider. After a dinner with her partner, Jamie, the pair decided to ride a motorbike back to the hotel. They didn’t see danger or harm in the activity. However, another motorbike driver collided with them. Hard, fast, at the fatal speed of 80km/h. They weren’t wearing helmets. Nicole died three hours later from severe head injuries leaving Jamie to make a phone call that nobody should ever have to make.
Instantaneous planning began for Nicole’s funeral, along with the promise to ensure that her legacy and footprint would remain. With determination to stay strong for her sister, Kate spent the days leading up to Nicole’s funeral reflecting on what she was thankful for. She started compiling her thoughts, engulfed by love and grief into a dairy, to be put into Nicole’s coffin. It was the symbol of their friendship that would never be disturbed. Every day in the week leading up to the funeral, Kate constructed these pages, coming to realise she was stronger than she thought. Among the entries, Kate included a poem called ‘I’m Grateful For’. In hindsight, Kate can’t begin to understand how she remained so positive in such a moment of emotional chaos, however she maintains that when put in a position of distress, strength comes naturally.
“Everyone always says they don’t know how I do it, but I think a lot of people would be surprised at themselves. I know I certainly am,” Kate expresses.
Flowers began to pile up in the worst way possible in the Fitzsimons’ household. The fragrance from the petals became a constant reminder that this was not a nightmare. The condolences and apologies for her loss surrounded Kate. However, along with her family, grief was channelled and became inspiration for something greater than they could have ever anticipated. They began to direct the money from the flowers and asked for donations so that the focus would be on continuing Nicole’s passions. They thought that providing money to a well deserving sportsman or dancer would be something that Nicole would prefer. This was the birth of The Nicole Fitzsimons Foundation. The continuation of these grants towards young talent in these fields fulfils Nicole’s legacy of wanting to help others believe in how special they are.
As for Kate, she began to use the Internet to thoroughly understand the dangers of traveling. She became shocked at the statistics that she was seeing and the amount of Australian lives being lost abroad. Sitting up late in her bedroom one night, a cup of coffee and her dog at her side, Kate decided she wanted to diminish these statistics in any way that she could. She knew that she was just one voice, but if she spoke loud enough she would be heard.
Kate began to see that Thailand was one of the most dangerous destinations in the world, with one Australian dying there every three days due to treacherous road conditions. She used information such as this, and decided she wanted to ensure her sister didn’t become just another statistic. She worked to make Nicole stand out from the numbers and turned her story into an education device for others to avoid seeing the same fate as her family had. She made it the mission of the Nicole Fitzsimons Foundation to bring more Australians home safely into the arms of their loved ones.
“I could have ridden that corporate ladder, but I knew I had to listen to my heart and I realised that when you do, the doors kind of open, the universe rewards you,” Kate explains.
Kate began to take her presentation to schools, targeting the excited schoolies teenager, who anticipated and planned what they would be able to get away with once they are away from the prying eyes of their parents. With the ability to silence an entire room of teenagers, Kate instils the importance of remaining sensible whilst overseas through the device of her personal experience.
Since beginning the foundation, Kate has taken this mission to heights she didn’t know were possible. Sitting up in her bedroom to turn her grief into a passion has become the building blocks of a remarkable skyscraper. The biggest highlight for her was the first opportunity she had to take her story interstate. Perth welcomed her warmly, eager to learn and connect with Kate’s message.
“Getting some momentum happening in NSW to take it thousands of kilometres across Australia and have people on the other side of the country hearing and appreciating it was a very surreal and memorable feeling,” Kate reflects.
Despite the success she has had with the foundation, Kate has experienced exasperations along side the triumphs. Kate places importance on spreading her message far and wide, however getting to new schools is often a struggle. The charity is not supported by government aid; so much of the funding is left up to the Fitzsimons family. In saying this, the foundation hasn’t got a DGR status; meaning corporate companies are unable to provide donations and sponsorships in support. Kate’s mission is not considered to be harm minimisation. The government do not fit Kate into a category where she is physically saving lives. It’s difficult to prove that she in fact is.
“It’s frustrating, because I’m out there doing some great things for the youth of Australia. These challenges really hold you back from doing bigger things,” Kate expresses.
Her involvement with her charity has led to numerous opportunities. She has been gifted with rewards for her works, such as Rockdale’s Young Citizen of the Year award for 2014 on Australia Day. Her passion of presenting has blossomed, with hopes of taking it to a new pinnacle. By the end of 2016, Kate hopes to create a travel safety DVD for schools to show students, so that she can focus on presenting full time yet have her message speak loudly continuously.
Kate’s passion for presenting grew after meeting a producer whilst receiving her award. He asked her if she would like to be involved in presenting a TV travel show called ‘My Dubai’, which focuses on the highlights and beauty of Dubai. She couldn’t help but think this was Nicole’s way of showing her that her presenting passions would still be possible, while keeping this legacy alive.
Kate’s experience in Dubai was a life fulfilling experience, where the ancient desert met the contemporary atmosphere like they were always destined to be friends. Riding camels, enjoying cuisine and experiencing Muslim culture, Kate’s mind was opened to a worldly experience, all while having to work. Getting thrown into the deep end was scary, however she remained grateful throughout the entire experience without a single second taken for granted.
“It was a massive learning experience, but also a fulfilling life experience,” Kate explains.
Kate’s two biggest recommendations for the curious traveller when visiting Dubai are to visit both the desert and the malls. Whilst the desert offers a visitor the cultural experience, the mall also offers a Willy Wonka type dream world with theme parks to entertain even the most uninterested shopper.
Through experiences such as the opportunity in Dubai, Kate is sure that she is on a path paved out for her by her own personal angel, Nicole. Through the establishment of a foundation, Kate has come to understand what she is capable of along with the strength that she possesses. Despite the tragic nature of Nicole’s death, Kate makes it clear she wants to not simply mourn over death. In fact celebrating Nicole’s life is the focus for Kate and her family. Kate has to live a life without her sister by her side physically, however through all the tears of grief and fits of laughter her lifelong experiences have taught her one thing.
“I’ve definitely learned that love is stronger than death,” Kate emphasises.
 Fitzsimons, K, 2013, An Aussie Tourist Will Die In This Location Every Three Days, Mamamia, viewed 8 May 2015, http://www.mamamia.com.au/news/dangers-of-thailand/