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Swim star Sophie Pascoe's new love

Home is where the Kiwi athlete’s heart is

She’s New Zealand’s most decorated Paralympic athlete of all time, so when you enter Sophie Pascoe’s Christchurch home, you’d expect to see a medal or two on display. Instead, it’s shoes and pillows, and a gigantic orchid that dominate the immaculate interior.
Most of her hard-won medals, she tells Woman’s Day, have been kept in a plastic bag or in drawers, and another is lying on the sofa. “If anyone wants to build me a display cabinet, then go for it!” she laughs while trying to round up as many medals as she can for our photo shoot.
It’s not that Sophie doesn’t treasure the nine golds and six silvers she’s amassed over three Paralympic Games, but since the swimming legend returned from Rio de Janeiro last year, her priorities have been a little different.
For the first time in a very long time, she doesn’t have a plan. “This year is about Sophie the person, as well as Sophie Pascoe the swimmer,” she grins.
Since making a splash as a “naïve” 15-year-old at the 2008 Paralympics in Beijing, where she won three gold medals and one silver, Sophie’s whole life has revolved around the pool and the gym.
Now, at 24, it’s time to try something new and Sophie – who lost the lower part of her left leg after a ride-on mower accident when she was two – is certainly not mucking about.
Decorating her home, which she bought when she was 19 and now shares with her partner Tom Casey, is first on the list. “I love décor,” she tells. “At high school, I wanted to be an interior designer, but I didn’t really click with the graphic-design class! But Tom tells me I have a talent.”
Sophie has already completed a make-up course, which she says gave her a massive confidence boost, and she’s enjoyed a stint at fashion school. Her passion for style is still very strong, as her serious shoe collection shows.
The sports star’s justification is that when she finds a shoe that fits her prosthetics perfectly, she has to buy a pair in every colour.
Now there’s another area Sophie is exploring. “I’m doing a real-estate course this year,” she beams. “I’ve always had an interest in the housing industry and helping find someone their home. I remember when I found this house – it was the most amazing feeling.”
Although finding out who she is outside the pool is Sophie’s main goal this year, her training will ramp up in preparation for 2018’s Commonwealth Games. “I still love swimming so much. I couldn’t imagine giving it up,” she tells. “I feel like I’ve got so much more to give. The Tokyo 2020 Olympics is definitely on the horizon!”
Until then, the determined athlete will be searching for that fabled work-life balance. “I know swimming won’t last forever,” Sophie shrugs. “It’s a scary thing to think about.”
However, it’s now time to relax a little. Sophie’s treating herself by indulging her sweet tooth – though she’s actually lost 4kg while not training – and spending more time with family and friends.
She’s also allowed herself the longest break she’s ever had, taking an epic trip around the US, including New York, California and Las Vegas, and visiting Guatemala and Cancún.
Sophie can’t quite believe she’s now the most decorated Kiwi Paralympic athlete ever, eclipsing the late legend Eve Rimmer’s long-held record with her last medal in Rio.
“I love seeing Paralympics New Zealand gaining more of a profile,” she tells. “We’re slowly getting there. I like to think I’ve contributed a lot to that, but you don’t want to be an inspiration for your disability – you want to be an inspiration for overcoming adversity. That’s where Paralympic sport is heading.”
Sophie has always affirmed the accident, where her dad accidentally ran over her, was the best thing that ever happened to her.
“I don’t like the word ‘regret’,” she explains. “Everything happens for a reason. You could probably say my dad regrets the accident, but for me, I like to change that every single time I race. People say your disability doesn’t define you, but for me, it does. I would have been a completely different person had it not happened.”
Smiling at the serious turn in the conversation, Sophie pivots to thoughts of the future – one that is looking brighter and more varied by the minute.
She wants to continue to inspire others with the talks she gives at schools, and she can’t wait to learn more about real estate, all while keeping one eye firmly
on the pool.
“Watch this space,” she says. “It’s going to be a good year!”

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