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Everybody knows the dangers on the roads of Koh Samui and all over Asia. Hardly a day goes past for any of the residents of Koh Samui where they do not have a near miss on the roads. While many conversations go on all over the island about the dangers faced and what measures can be put in place to improve the situation, rarely anything practical is done.
One family who faced tragedy when a member of their family lost her life on the roads of Koh Samui decided to make a move for change and have created a foundation in memory of their loved one that aims to bring awareness about the dangers of Asia’s roads to travelers before they leave home.
In October 2012 Nicole Fitzsimons came to Thailand and unaware of the dangers lost her life here in Koh Samui. Her sister Kate tells her story.
Did you know that an Aussie tourist dies in Thailand every 3 days? This time last year neither did I and it is a statistic I wish I didn’t have to learn the hard way. Just over a year ago, my family were just like every other hard working and fun-loving family until one life shattering phone call in the early hours of 20th October 2012 turned our entire world upside down when we discovered that my beautiful sister, Nicole Fitzsimons, will never be coming home. Nicole Fitzsimons is a name that you probably haven’t heard of before, but by the end of this article I hope it is a name you never forget.
You only needed to spend two minutes with my sister to know how extraordinarily special she was. Her smile alone could light up a room. At 24 years young, Nicole was not only an inspiring, talented dancer who had performed around the world, but also a devoted footy fan who studied journalism at Uni via correspondence. From her love of footy, Nicole developed a passion for sports journalism which saw her land her dream job on Channel 9’s The Footy Show early last year.
Nicole was on the brink of reaching her full potential before she was tragically killed in an accident in Thailand whilst holidaying with her boyfriend during October 2012. They were turning right into the driveway of the hotel when they were blindsided by a Thai local on a scooter speeding on the wrong side of the road and collided with them from behind at 80km/hr. Nicole took almost the entire impact to her head and in a heartbeat she was stolen from us, forever.
My family has established The Nicole Fitzsimons Foundation to continue Nicole’s legacy of helping others, particularly performers & sportspeople, to fulfil their life aspirations. However, due to the traumatic experience we have been through another important aim of the Foundation is raising awareness of travel safety overseas among young Australian tourists with a mission to bring more of them home safely into the arms of loved ones. In fact, I am so passionate about sharing these messages with the rest of Australia I have walked away from my corporate career to dedicate myself full-time to Nicole’s Foundation by delivering voluntary presentations to senior school students around the Nation.
My passion to educate other Australians on travel safety ignited when I started researching into accidents overseas just after losing Nicole where I discovered that Thailand is officially the deadliest destination accounting for one in every 8 Australian deaths on foreign soil. Similar destinations like Indonesia and Vietnam also place in the top 5 highest recorded deaths of Australians overseas and a major cause of these deaths are accidents. With more than double number of under 25’s travelling overseas than a decade ago and 6,000 Schoolies expected to pour into Bali this year, I pray teachers are beginning to appreciate just how important it is to provide travel safety education to their students before they gain their independence to explore the rest of the world.
Unfortunately it is the ‘nothing is off limits’ fantasy that attracts so many young tourists to South – East Asia and this is where the real danger lies. These destinations are notorious for their relaxed safety standards and many tourists look at it as an opportunity to do the same, yet through my presentations I help students realize that there are dramatic cultural differences in every foreign country we visit that we need to be aware of prior to arriving there. I remind them that rules are put into place by people who care about our wellbeing so while mum, dad and the trustworthy police are just a phone call away whilst holidaying up the coast, we lose that safety net of protection as soon as we step out of Australian shores.
Through sharing Nicole’s story in my presentations, including video footage of the sudden accident, I open students eyes to the fact that the ‘unthinkable’ does happen and shatter their sense of ‘invincibility’ that clouds the judgments of many teenagers when making decisions and taking risks. I also offer them some really practical tips to do my absolute best to prevent the ‘unthinkable’ from happening to them and prepare them if it does happen by highlighting the importance of proper travel insurance. With medical evacuations costing $100,000 from Bali and three days in hospital in the US $75, 000 – I make it clear that if you can’t afford travel insurance, you can’t afford to travel at all.
In my research I read an article that taught me that 38 people die on Thailand’s road every single day, and Bali’s largest hospital treats up 300 victims on a daily basis! However the most alarming sentence was that Australians are “completely OBLIVIOUS to the risks.” Tragically, Nicole and Jamie were one of these many Australians and this needs to change. Australians need to be educated on the alarming dangers of riding on South East Asian roads so they are aware that they are gambling with their life every time they do so. This is an aim of the Foundation that we are extremely passionate about fulfilling. Through our campaign we hope that these risks become common knowledge for all Australians. We hope when the temptation comes to jump on a motorbike in South-East Asia, Nicole’s bright smile comes to mind and they remember the risks are not worth it. We hope this gives every Australian the wisdom to walk away from the bike, so that no other family has to utter those same two words of heartbreak – ‘if only’.
Besides highlighting the lethal risks of riding motorbikes on foreign roads, I also make students aware of the various other dangers that lurk on these seemingly idyllic islands including drink spiking, passport scams, as well as the serious legal trouble tourists can land themselves in by ignoring local laws and behaving recklessly towards locals. I also pass along simple but important tips to help their trip run more smoothly such as purchasing proper travel insurance tailored to their needs and activities as well as registering travel plans with DFAT. Although my presentation focuses on South-East Asia due to my personal experience, I make clear that the lessons can be applied absolutely anywhere in the world, including Australia, as the underlying message is that we need to ensure our safety remains a priority with every decision we make.
The response from my presentations has been overwhelmingly uplifting and I believe what enables me to make such a strong connection with the students is that I am speaking peer to peer. Teachers say they have never seen their students so captivated and when students come up to me speechless with tears streaming down their face I can tell Nicole’s story has moved them in such a way that the impact will be felt for a lifetime. I allow the students to share in the emotional rollercoaster my family has been through since losing Nicole and by doing this I remind them that their actions not only have consequences on their own life, but the lives of all those around them. I believe this leaves them with a feeling so powerful it will prevent them from taking that risk they once thought was ‘funny’.
Over 30 school presentations later, including interstate presentations in Darwin, I am proud to say that I have travelled a long way with our Travel Safety Campaign, yet in my heart I know I still have a long way to go. Saving lives through sharing Nicole’s story is a passion that runs deep within me and gives me a sense of fulfilment I cannot find elsewhere. I can’t prevent this tragedy from ever happening to another innocent family, but I am dedicated to do everything within my power to save as many families as I can from suffering this heart ache.
If you would like to have your students eyes opened and hearts inspired by Nicole’s story, please visit our website www.nicolefitzsimons.com where you can download our travel safety e-brochure to learn more about my Travel Safety Presentation and the incredible difference Nicole’s foundation is making in the lives of others.