By age 28, Sophie Pascoe had faced more challenges than many do in a lifetime.
After losing her leg below the knee in a lawnmower accident at two years old, she discovered her talent for swimming and soon took the sport by storm, dominating international competition while coping with the highs and lows of becoming one of New Zealand’s most decorated athletes.
“I know first-hand what it takes to be a Para champion, and it has certainly been a physical and emotional rollercoaster,” she said.
“What athletes do is not the norm. I’ve trained my body and my mind to maximise the most of myself while managing all the added challenges that come with having a disability.”
But in 2020, during the height of the coronavirus pandemic, Pascoe found herself facing one her largest obstacles to date — the unexpected potential end of her competitive swimming career.
Her inability to train for three months during New Zealand’s first lockdown paired with the uncertain postponement of competition put Pascoe, like many athletes around the world, in a tough place mentally.
While out of the pool, however, she spent more time with her support system of family, friends, coach, team, and fellow athletes.
Ultimately, this helped restore the mental strength that had always served her throughout the most difficult moments.
“Losing my leg at such a young age meant I became a minority in a majority society, so I’ve learned to adapt. Being strong and resilient has enabled me to challenge myself to the max and accept pain, struggle, and all the things that lead you to go outside of your comfort zone, because that’s what it takes to be a champion.”– Sophie Pascoe
Over the last 13 years, the swimming star has earned 29 gold medals from international meets, and as competition begins to return, she knows she still has energy to give to the sport.
When she takes on her opponents this summer, she will do so with a knowledge that comes from years of experience and a confidence that comes from repeated success. But that does not mean that victory will come easily — Pascoe will be one of the older swimmers in the pool, and her many wins have put a target on her back. However, if she has learned anything from the challenges of the last year, it is that she has the power to turn adversity into opportunity.
“I certainly feel the pressure compared to my first Games appearance,” she said. “Before, I was the hunter, and now, I’m the hunted. But I’m choosing to use the pressure to be a positive driving force.”