Almanac Book Review: Kieran Modra: the way I see it


Kieran Modra: the way I see it

as told to Andy Thurlow, Adelaide: Wakefield Press, 2018


“Some stories need to be told” says Andy Thurlow as he introduces us to the life journey of Kieran Modra, elite athlete and Paralympian icon. Indeed they do and this, most certainly, is one of them!


Kieran’s record of achievements in cycling, swimming and athletics is a matter of public record. It is astounding in its own right let alone in the context of his visual impairment, and ranks in the top echelon of Australian sportspersons of any era.


Less well known is the extent of the determination and sacrifices, the struggles to overcome obstacles and injuries, and the sheer indomitability of spirit that enabled him to accumulate this record. Even less well known is Kieran’s record of community service to aide and assist, encourage and mentor, guide and inspire other kids and adults facing similar afflictions and challenges in life.


Cycling aficionados will enjoy the mechanical insights into the construction, settings and preparation of Kieran’s tandem bicycles. Members of the weekend peloton will take heart that even the elite suffer punctures, derailed chains and miscellaneous equipment malfunctions.


Sports lovers in general will metaphorically ride pillion as Kieran and his pilots compete across the globe on banked tracks and open roads of varying quality. Thankfully, they will be spared the spills and injuries that go hand in hand with the intensity of competition.


Record keepers and statisticians will find all they need here to fill notebooks and spreadsheets to track and compare careers across the Modra-dominated era of Paralympian competition.


Those who find enjoyment in a pictorial record will find the 16-page colour spread a bright and powerful homage to Kieran’s life and career. My personal favourite comes on the eleventh page of this section and shows Kieran and his pilot, Jason Niblett, generously acknowledging their Scottish conquerors after the gold medal clash at the 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games. This image encapsulates so much of the man.


Three themes emerge through the perspective of this man’s story. The first traces the progress made over the past forty years in the understanding of physical disability and the options available to treat and work with those facing these challenges. In this volume, vision impairment is the particular focus but the central tenets can be extrapolated and applied to the wider range of disabilities. The bottom line is that we’ve come a long, long way.


The second theme traces the founding and development of the Paralympian movement. A comparatively recent development, this concept has opened a whole new set of opportunities, experiences and achievements as well as a sense of purpose and meaning for its participants. From a wider societal perspective, the emergence and success of ‘para-sport’ (for want of a better term) has led to a better informed, better understood and vastly better appreciated awareness of the differently abled in the community. That can only ever be a good thing!


The third theme is the study of the man himself and, for this reader, is the essence of the tale. For all of his strengths and successes, Kieran shares the details of and insights into his family background, the emergence of his ‘can-do’ character and his escapades on Thistle Island. He is open about the lonely, troubled times at Townsend House and the challenges of integrating into the boarding house at Immanuel College. This is genuine tears-in-the-eyes stuff!


At the same time, he never forgets the key people who supported and encouraged him. Initially these were his immediate and extended families – and the Modras comprise a huge extended family! There is the love and gentle guidance of his grandmother Dora. (I knew this lady and she was the perfect grandparent for a sensitive boy struggling to find his way in the world.) In his formative years, Peggy Bell from Townsend House and John Hamann at Mawson High School are duly recognised along with a number of others on the road to his first Paralympics at Seoul in 1988.


And what can one say about his wife, Kerry? An accomplished cyclist in her own right, she becomes Kieran’s tandem partner, wife, mother of their children and the cornerstone/foundation/rock on which the family rests. She is the mortar that holds it all together and deserves to have her story told, too.


Amidst all the activity and achievements, Kieran shares his internal insecurities, doubts and questions about life. He’s not afraid to ask God, “why is it like this for me?” In the end, like Job in the Old Testament, he acknowledges the wisdom of the Almighty and gives thanks that he can use what he has been given for others. He rejoices in his family but misses them awfully when travelling, fearing that he may not have been fair to them. His daughters have health problems and he loses his brother to cancer. He faces financial struggles and contemplates uncertainties about employment after his retirement from competition. It’s life in the raw!


In spite of all this, Kieran emerges grateful for all that he has and the opportunities that have come his way. There’s a grounded humility, a warm humanity and a rare level of resilience in the face of multiple adversities.


But at times we also find a stubborn man possessed of an ‘I’ll do it my way, right or wrong’ trait, and a breaker of team and Paralympic Village protocols. We have to admire the transparency. We come to respect Kieran for who and what he is as well as for who and what he is not.


All of these threads come together in this well-presented volume in which the author avoids the easy road of hagiography with its epithets of ‘legend’, ‘hero’ and the like. Instead, he respects both his subject and his readers by presenting us with Kieran’s real-life path with all of its lumps, bumps and smooth sections. It is an honest record of a challenging life lived to the full but also not without its flaws. The author deserves further credit because his subject is his wife’s nephew and yet we find no favour here, no craven adulation just because ‘he’s family’. Respect!


Kieran’s story needs to be read and is worthy of our attention. It is sensitively handled by a balanced and diligent author. Readers will come away with their spirits uplifted.



Here’s another insight written by Australia’s greatest ever female cyclist, Anna Meares, Olympic, Commonwealth and National Cycling Champion. She wrote:


‘Kieran Modra: The Way I See It is a fantastic read, which not only highlights the bravery and resilience of a boy going blind, but simultaneously traces the history and rise in popularity of the Paralympics and the progress in human understanding of vision impairment and what can be achieved with a positive can-do attitude. The author clearly enjoys delving into many aspects of cycling. Every cyclist, no every Australian needs to read this book to enjoy what it means to represent this wonderful country. Kieran’s story is an emotional roller-coaster and written with great sensitivity. The reader emerges with a deeper understanding of disability and a reminder of the power of the human spirit. A wonderful book about an extraordinary Australian athlete.’


Copies available at $34.95 plus postage using the following link


Cover photo, Anna Meares extract and link used with permission.


About Ian Hauser

A relaxed, Noosa-based retiree with a (very) modest sporting CV. A loyal Queenslander, especially when it comes to cricket and rugby league. Enjoys travel, coffee and cake, reading, and has been known to appreciate a glass or three of wine. One of Footy Almanac's online editors who enjoys the occasional editing opportunity to assist aspiring writers.


  1. Dr Vic Pfitzner says

    A great review for a very fine book, nicely put together by Andy Thurlow. I knew nothing about cycling but eventually got hooked. I remember visiting Kieran in Flinders Hospital after he had smashed himself up by riding into a stationary car. I did not think he would ever ride again – let alone go on to still more memorable victories in international contests. I also like the way that Kieran’s wife Kerry is recognised. I am in awe of this strong lady.

  2. Cameron Miller says

    An inspiration and motivation. Kieran reminds us…”never give up”…

  3. Lesley Bubner says

    Lesley Bubner
    May 15th

    A must read book. A great story about a mans journey to succeed in spite of disabilty.

  4. I’ve read the book and agree wholeheartedly with all of Ian’s comments. I am a keen cyclist, so could relate to many of the things that were written about bike design, riding technique and the vagaries of rides. I have also worked with people with physical disability for over 30 years, so could also relate to Kieren’s experiences. An incredibly authentic and honest account of an extraordinary person surrounded and supported by other extraordinary people. Thank you!

  5. Judith Hoffrichter says

    A great review of an excellent book. Keiran’s story is absolutely inspirational and shows the true meaning of good sportsmanship – courage, determination, and grit, balanced with an anazingly humble and kind spirit.

  6. Leanne Ahrens says

    An incredible story of an inspirational man in both his sporting achievements and in the general community.

  7. An inspiring story of an incredible journey. A roller coaster of emotions, I couldn’t put the book down.

  8. Keren Faulkner says

    Take the time to read this book – I found that it’s one of those that made me reflect on all kinds of topics – family, trust, resilience. Congratulations Andy and Kieran.


    One you need to buy for your dad and your brothers to remind us all how average we look compared to this incredible man, husband, father and athlete

  10. E.regnans says

    That’s a wonderful review, Ian.

    Thank you for bringing this story to my/our attention.
    Go well, Kieran Modra.

  11. Tania Hill says

    This is my super bro! It was his encouragement, equipment, connections and his vision (ha ha that’s good!) of what could be achieved that got myself and Saryna into cycling too.

    Hope this review whets your appetite to get the book.

  12. Rich & Evelyne Rominger says

    This is an excellant review of an inspirational story told exceedingly well. Best wishes Kieran and Andy from your U.S.A. friends.

  13. Great review of an even greater book about an even greater again guy. Having read the book my respect and admiration for Kieran has doubled from what it already was. What blows me away is Kieran’s fearless pioneering spirit. Simply inspirational and I recommend the book to anyone who cares to listen to me raving about it.

  14. John Brandenberger says

    Really well written Andy.
    Kieran determination, dedication, ability and talent was/is a relitavily unknown to the average Australian and this book has told the story and given him the recognition he richly deserves.

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