ACTIVE LIFE: Marion Burrill overcame the odds to lead the life she wanted.
ACTIVE LIFE: Marion Burrill overcame the odds to lead the life she wanted. Jonno Colfs

Personal best beats polio

THESE days it's hard to tell that physical education teacher and orienteering enthusiast Marion Burrill was ever anything but 100% sporty, but in reality life started out quite differently.

Born in Killarney in 1961, Mrs Burrill was the youngest of seven children.

When she was almost a year old she fell dangerously ill and according to her father, couldn't stand being touched.

After a visit to see the local doctor, Sid Bickerton, and a few further tests, the bad news was confirmed, the infant Marion Burrill had polio.

Mrs Burrill said she may have been one of the last children in the state to contract the disease.

"The anti-polio vaccine, Sabin, was introduced in 1956 and by the early 1960s the incidence of polio was beginning to decline in Australia," she said.

"I understand that I had had a couple of vaccinations of Sabin, but had not completed the three doses.

"The polio virus can last for a few hours to a few days and then it's gone, but it can leave the sufferer with partial paralysation and weakness, generally in the legs."

Mrs Burrill said it made a marked difference to her childhood.

"The effects of the virus were never really explained to me," she said.

"There was no counselling like there would be these days, or much advice.

"I wish I'd had the chance to talk to somebody else about it, although I guess no one really knew what to expect anyway, being only partially affected by polio, which many people died from if the disease affected their upper body organs."

Mrs Burrill said her family had been quite sporty.

"I got left behind a bit," she said.

"I remember running one race and being so far behind the other runners.

"I had to wear these special boots with an arch support, so I just always felt a bit different, especially at school.

"But I don't ever remember being teased or made to feel embarrassed."

One place she found solace, strength, compensation and a competitive spirit, was in the pool.

"Mum thought she'd get me into the water," Mrs Burrill said.

"Then she discovered she couldn't get me out.

"My name still sits at the top of one of the honour boards from the Killarney pool.

"I was swimming properly at a very young age."

A major turning point was when Mrs Burrill headed off to high school in Warwick.

"I ditched the boots and bought some Adidas, which had their own built in arch support," she said.

"Suddenly I didn't look any different from anyone else," she said.

"I gained in confidence and jumped headlong into sport."

Mrs Burrill ended up playing for Queensland in school's volleyball and also made the state championships for swimming.

"I can now really empathise with kids who are slightly different," Mrs Burrill said.

"Kids need tools to be able to deal with things like that.

"And it's helpful for them to know there are people out there who understand physical differences."

After high school Mrs Burrill completed a teaching degree and has been a physical education teacher since 1982, minus 18 years she took off to raise her five children.

"It's a little bit ironic that now I'm heavily involved in a sport that involves mainly running," Mrs Burrill said.

"Now in my fifties aches and pains start to creep in but I want to keep being active, so it's just about taking a little more care."

Mrs Burrill and husband Philip still compete at orienteering events at least once a month.



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