Celebrity News

Sophie Pascoe’s secret passion

Our swimming champion's in couture heaven!
Sophie Pascoe

She’s the darling of Paralympic swimming, having travelled to the games in Beijing as an unknown 15-year-old schoolgirl and returned home a world champion.

Since Sophie Pascoe first stepped on to the winner’s podium seven years ago, she’s gathered 35 Commonwealth, Paralympic and World Championship medals, set seven world records, and won fans around the world with her courage and commitment.

“I’m really fortunate I have passion for what I do and a great team to help me achieve my goals,” tells Sophie, 22. “Yes, it’s hard work, but how many people get to call themselves a world champion?”

And with her eyes firmly set on the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, now less than a year away, Sophie is undergoing a gruelling training regime that sees her in the pool at Jellie Park in Christchurch six days a week, plus further sessions in the gym.

Her schedule means a pair of togs and a tracksuit are de rigueur – but what’s less well known about our golden girl of swimming is her love of clothes. “It’s a cliché, but I’ve always had a passion for fashion. A sporting goal is the pinnacle of my year, but the next best thing is awards night – I love getting dressed up.”

And although Sophie loves New Zealand labels, it’s high-end European couture that really takes her fancy.

“I have 17 evening gowns in my wardrobe at last count,” she says. “My favourite is an Italian Salvatore Ferragamo gown I bought in Las Vegas. Don’t ask how much it was. Thank goodness it was on sale!”

Not that Sophie’s a stranger to big purchases. At only 19, she bought herself a four-bedroom home in Christchurch. What clinched the sale was a massive walk-in wardrobe off the master bedroom. “I thought, ‘Great! Now I have somewhere to put all my gowns,’” she confesses.

Sophie confesses to loving European couture and counts a Salvatore Ferragamo gown as one of her prized possessions.

Creative side

Despite her six-day-a-week training schedule, the athlete has somehow found the time to study fashion at Hagley Community College and will showcase her collection at the end of the year. Last year, she also studied hair and make-up.

Sophie says she learned the importance of cultivating interests outside the pool when she returned from the 2012 London Paralympics. “People at home thought I was a star, but actually I was in a really bad place. I had shoulder problems and didn’t know if I would make it to the World Champs.”

She reveals the thrill of a win lasts only for the two minutes you are on the podium. “Then it’s back to reality – a new goal, starting again.”

Her many medals are kept in various bags at her home and with her parents.

“When you hold them, you remember how hard you trained, but for the most part, they sit in a drawer,” explains Sophie. “The real reward for me is overcoming the challenges I set myself, and the people I meet and inspire.”

The swim star pulled herself out of her slump with the help of a psychologist, who she still sees today. “I did go to the Worlds that year and I did do well. I wasn’t as fit as I could have been, but I was mentally strong and ready to be there.”

Sophie credits her coach Roly Crichton, who she’s trained with since the age of eight, with keeping her on track. “We are a good team. We know each other inside out and bicker like an old married couple.”

Sophie has incredible support from her parents Jo and Garry, and her older sister Becky, who is studying medicine at University of Otage. She describes her mother as her best friend and says they talk on the phone four or five times a day. “I’m tough on the outside, but not on the inside. Mum is my rock – she reassures me that everything will be OK.”

Despite her gruelling training schedule, Sophie’s found time to indulge one of her other passions – fashion!

Growing strong

Sophie was two years old when her left leg had to be amputated below the knee. Her dad was on a ride-on mower and was cutting the lawn alongside their lifestyle farm in Halswell on the outskirts of Christchurch. He told Sophie to wait for him near the shed, but she followed him down the driveway and he accidentally reversed over her legs.

For most of her life, Sophie refused to name her father as the driver. She explains, “It’s hard for me, knowing he lives with the knowledge that he harmed his own child.”

Sophie says she was never treated like a “disabled child” when she was growing up. She credits her family for her resilience, work ethic and determination. As a child, she competed at the CCS Independence Games, now known as the Junior Disability Games, in running and high jump. “But I got in a pool and decided I didn’t want to do anything else.”

With both her parents working full-time, she spent a lot of time with her beloved grandparents, John and Yvonne Goodman. “My granddad died when I was 10, but before he passed away, I promised him I would win a gold medal for him at the Paralympics.”

As for her dad, Sophie tells they got closure for her accident at the Paralympics in Beijing. At 15, she was the youngest New Zealand Paralympic athlete in history – bringing home three gold medals and one silver that year.

At 15, Sophie became the youngest New Zealand Paralympic in history, bringing home four medals in Beijing.

“My father is a hard-arse, but I stood on the podium and found my parents in the crowd,” she recalls. “I saw Dad shed a tear – it was our closure. He could see the life I was making for myself and

he was proud.”

Surprisingly for a world-class swimmer, sometimes Sophie doesn’t like getting wet. “I stand there and look at the water, and some days I don’t feel like getting in. Then I do a few lengths and remember why I’m there.”

Despite her passion for the pool, she admits it can be lonely. “I spend my time alone, looking at a black line on the bottom of a pool.”

It’s a routine that often leaves her exhausted and in bed by 8.30pm. “Yes, there are sacrifices,” she says, “but sacrifice is a choice.”

In September, for the first time ever, Sophie took a week off, travelling to Thailand with friends. “I needed it for my head space. It was a time to switch off before full-on training for Rio.”

Although downtime is rare, one thing the swimmer loves to do is visit Yvonne at the Alpine View Retirement Village in Christchurch. “She’s the self-appointed village ringleader – she’s so busy, I need an appointment to see her!”

And in an effort give back and get more grandma time, Sophie has started taking aqua-aerobic classes in the village pool. In the meantime, though, Sophie’s focus is firmly on Rio, particularly getting back on that winner’s podium.

“People ask what I would do if I had two legs, but I don’t live with what ifs. This is me. Swimming is my passion and the accident made me who I am.”

Sophie’s eyes are firmly set on her next goal, the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.

Get Woman’s Day home delivered!  

Subscribe and save up to 29% on a magazine subscription.

Related stories