Kate Fitzsimons’ older sister Nicole died in a motorbike accident in Koh Samui, Thailand, when she was just 24. Her tragic death compelled her sister Kate and her family to set up a foundation to honour Nicole’s passions and love of life, and to inform teenagers about safe travel.
Kate grew up in southern Sydney with her parents, Nicole, and her older brother Matt. She was only 20 and had just started in her first job after university when Nicole died. After the accident, Kate quit her corporate job to dedicate herself to the Nicole Fitzsimons Foundation. ‘My life flipped upside down, and I needed to live with more purpose’, she says. ‘I thought, this is my one chance to do something.’
‘Broken-hearted, and wanting to do something meaningful with my pain’, Kate started researching how many other families had been through similar experiences with overseas accidents and was surprised at the high numbers. Recognising that a lack of awareness was behind many of the accidents, Kate was motivated to share her story. ‘I couldn’t bring my sister home but I could bring someone home in her honour, hopefully more safely’, she says.
If I can just remind them of the consequences of their actions, I can hopefully help some of them make a smarter choice.
Kate now travels Australia to speak to Year 11 and 12 students and to share her story. ‘I try to help them understand that accidents can happen to anyone, and it’s our responsibility when we’re travelling to another country to make ourselves aware and prepare before we go’, she says. ‘I know if my sister had heard a story like hers, she wouldn't have gone on that bike. She was quite cautious but just didn’t have the education about the roads in Thailand.’
Kate talks to students about the speed that things can change in the current international environment and highlights the importance of travel insurance and the resources available to help travellers. ‘We're so lucky to live in a country where there's a site that can help us. It's Smartraveller and you can jump on and research how you might need to be prepared’, she says.
Kate has now given more than 200 presentations around Australia and in New Zealand and spoken to over 50,000 students. ‘It's been amazing to see 16, 17, 18 year old boys moved to tears. Underneath the teenage boy exterior, there is a big heart that cares about their family. If I can just remind them of the consequences of their actions, I can hopefully help some of them make a smarter choice.’
Kate has now spoken at Smartraveller events alongside Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, which she describes as ‘a dream come true’. She has also produced a travel safety film with funding from Jetstar and Smartraveller to help spread her message.
She says working on the foundation has been a rewarding experience. ‘Of course we would give anything to have Nicole home. But I’m pretty proud of what we’ve created, which is the next best thing.’