The one thing Turia Pitt feared as the flames of a raging bushfire engulfed her body in remote Western Australia was that she would never see her boyfriend Michael Hoskin again.
While battling to stay conscious after suffering excruciating burns to more than 60 per cent of her body, it was Michael’s face in her mind as she prepared to die.
“I kept thinking about him, the times we had,” she says.
Back then in 2011, Australia’s best doctors were unconvinced that she would survive being struck down by an out of control fire during the Racing The Planet Ultramarathon.
But even as comatose Turia, then 24, silently battled her unthinkable injuries, Michael knew his brave girl would pull through – so much so that he bought her an engagement ring, then and there, while she languished in intensive care.
This week, it was revealed that he has finally given her that ring – renewing national interest in their beautiful love story and the man who has been credited with keeping Turia alive.
But their love story began long before his meticulously planned future with her was thrown into turmoil.
Michael went to school in on the coastal town of Ulladulla, in southern New South Wales, where he met his future fiancée. The pair became a couple years later as they both carved out their careers.When Turia qualified as a mining engineer, Michael threw in his job as a policeman and joined her in remote Western Australia, where they both began work in the mines.
Understandably, Michael was transfixed by his whip-smart, bubbly and gorgeous girlfriend with Tahitian heritage.
“She’s got crazy energy… we were constantly active together,” he recalls. “She loves the outdoors. She loves the ocean like I do.”
Michael will never forget the date of September 2, 2011. He was in Darwin on business when he was informed that Turia had been injured just hours into her 100km race.
As her emergency helicopter landed in the Northern Territory capital, Michael and Turia’s parents were grimly told to expect the worst. Her face had swelled to double its size – but in a small glimmer of hope for Michael, he was relieved to find out those beautiful eyes he so adored were unaffected by the fire.
For a month, Michael and Turia’s parents were by her bedside, willing her to wake up. And when she finally did, Michael’s face appeared in her view.
“How are you feeling?” he asked. “I love you, darling. Aren’t you glad to be alive?”
At the time, Turia remembers thinking that if she could have spoken through her pain and the invasive tubes down her throat, she would have responded, “No”.
But in the ensuing months, when doctors finally tentatively conceded that she was through the worst of her physical injuries, Turia found the mental will to live – and it’s all down to Michael’s unwavering positivity and support.
“Once, two physiotherapists were trying to help me climb a tiny step. Michael was cheering and clapping like I’d just completed a triathlon,” Turia tells Friday magazine.
“But I was embarrassed and found myself losing my temper with him. I couldn’t speak so I’d scowl, wishing he would just give up on me. But he never did. He was by my bedside at 7am to 7pm. If he believed in me, I had to believe in myself.”
Turia wouldn’t look in the mirror for many months following the fire, but Michael still saw the same girl underneath her wounds and scars.
“You’re looking beautiful today Turia. What are you going to achieve today?” he would ask her.
In a heart-melting moment of clarity, Turia recalls a particularly touching moment between her and the man who is soon to be her husband.
“I love your beautiful eyes,” Michael told her, with Turia adding, “My eyes were saved because I closed them in the fire.”
Even when Turia was finally released from hospital, she still faced countless operations and endless rehabilitation. And Michael was right there with her as she returned to Ulladulla to start a new life she had never could have imagined before her now infamous ultramarathon.
“He [gave up] work to take care of me. He’d been taught how to change my dressings and feed me, and he knew exactly when I had to take each of my pills,” she says.
“Together, we built a new life. Never once did Michael treat me differently. He was in love with my personality before, and that’s something I’ve still got.”
These days, Turia is not only a medical marvel, she’s conquering the globe. Right now she’s hiking the Inca Trail with Interplast, a charity she supports that provides free reconstructive services to people in underdeveloped countries.
And recently, it was time for Michael to make good on the promise he made himself four years ago during their darkest days – “If she lives, I’ll marry her.”
In the latest issue of The Australian Women’s Weekly, which reports that Michael popped the question on a boat in the Maldives, he reveals that he’s looking forward to doing just that next year.
In a touchingly simple comment once made to News Ltd, Michael sums it up by saying, “She’s beautiful, you know. She’s amazing.”