Real Life

Sophie Pascoe’s triumph: ‘I’m glad I lost my leg’

Our Paralympic golden girl has no regrets.
New Zealand Paralympian gold medalist Sophie Pascoe

It’s taken some huge sacrifices, but Kiwi Paralympic star Sophie Pascoe is adamant that everything she’s ever had to give up has been worth it to bring home her phenomenal six-medal haul from London. And the 19-year-old, whose performance has made her New Zealand’s most successful swimmer, says that includes the loss of her left leg – because without the accident, she wouldn’t be where she is now.

Feeling on top of the world after her incredible Paralympic campaign, which saw her win three gold and three silver medals in the pool, Sophie, who lost her leg after her dad accidentally ran it over with a lawnmower when she was two, is relieved to be back home in Christchurch with the goals she set for herself well and truly met.

“Losing my leg was the best thing that ever happened to me,” Sophie says firmly. “People stare at my leg and say, ‘Oh, I’m sorry, how horrible!’ I’m like, ‘It’s not horrible. Look at what I’m doing today!’ “I’ve never really spoken to my parents about the accident. It’s something that’s never affected me, so it shouldn’t affect them. I know it must have been hard on them, but look at me now!”

Sophie at the 2012 London Paralympic Games.

Sophie isn’t even out of her teens, yet she’s already achieved what few could in a lifetime. While others her age worry about boyfriends and where they’re going on the weekend, Sophie’s mind is focused on the water – the strokes, the turns and how one one-hundreth of a second is the difference between gold and silver.

She knows acutely what she’s missed out on during her 11 years of training but she couldn’t care less. As she loves to say, she doesn’t train for nothing: she demands results, preferably of the gold variety. It’s a lot of pressure for one so young, and even winning isn’t enough for the courageous Cantabrian any more.

“It’s the best feeling in the world standing on that podium and hearing the national anthem, and it takes a hell of a lot of blood, sweat and tears to get there,” she says. “But my ultimate goal in life is to create a legacy. I want to be known not just as Sophie Pascoe the swimmer, but also for changing Paralympic sport, and to be on a par with Olympians and able-bodied athletes in New Zealand. I want to become someone people can look up to. I want to inspire people, in and out of the water.”

She gets her determination from her biggest fear – failure. “I drive me, and public expectation drives me,” she says. “I’m my own biggest critic and I do want to perform well, not only for myself, but for my family, my friends and my coach. You wish you could give them a piece of the medal!”

Sophie glammed up for the Halberg Awards earlier this year

For all her single-mindedness, Sophie’s a girlie girl – one who lusts after Ryan Gosling, loves high heels and who – ironically – hates getting wet. And finally, after years of an unforgiving training schedule, Sophie finally has the time to enjoy all of these things as she looks towards some well-deserved time off before she starts preparing for the 2016 games in Rio de Janiero.

“What I’m really looking forward to is the freedom to do things. I want to enjoy my age for a bit, be spontaneous. I like my routine, but not for the next month or so!” And with her long-awaited

break also comes the potential for romance – well, maybe. “Romance?” she laughs. “I’ve never had the time. But I’m definitely open to it. It’s about finding the right person who accepts a busy schedule. So yeah, we’ll see!”

She’s looked forward to showing off her impressive medal haul for a long time. “As soon as I’d won one, I put it in the drawer and focused on the next race. Reality didn’t hit me until they were back home with me,” she says. “Seeing all of my friends and family is the best thing, everyone who’s supported me. I’m not a big partier, but I am looking forward to a rowdy one now with everyone! “That’ll be a great reward.”

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