Sophie Pascoe: New Zealand’s Para swimming star glitters at Tokyo 2020

Plunging into Tokyo 2020 a year later than planned may have been Pascoe's greatest challenge, but even that couldn't stop the Kiwi from winning.

Picture by 2021 Getty Images

The Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games marked another stellar showing for New Zealand’s Para swimming powerhouse Sophie Pascoe.

The 28-year-old experienced nearly every kind of emotion at the Games, from sheer disbelief at clinching a silver in the women's 100m breaststroke SB8, to tears of joy after a career first Paralympic bronze in the women's 100m backstroke S9 (or ‘Rosé’ as she called it).

The rollercoaster ride then reached its apex when the four-time Paralympian missed out on a medal in her fifth and final race of the Games.

“The 100m fly is definitely my favourite event,” Pascoe shared exclusively with ahead of her final outing.

However the New Zealander, who burst out of the blocks and led for the first 50m, was closed down quickly by eventual gold medallist Zsofia Konkoly of Hungary.

Elizabeth Smith and Sarai Gascon also leapfrogged Pascoe to the wall leaving her outside the medal zone in fifth place.

While the Kiwi may have fallen short in her last race, New Zealand's most successful Paralympian leaves Japan's capital having taken her sporting legacy to next level. She will return to Aotearoa with two golds, one silver and one bronze medal.

Read on to find out more about her, and her journey to Tokyo 2020.

A tale of ups and downs

New Zealand’s most decorated Paralympian is no stranger to a challenge.

At just 15 years old, the swimmer made her Paralympic Games debut at Beijing 2008, and stunned the world by winning three golds and one silver.

In the subsequent two Paralympic cycles she only got better.

Pascoe added an astonishing 11 medals (6 golds and 5 silvers) courtesy of her scintillating swims in London and Rio de Janeiro.

But when the decision was made to postpone Tokyo 2020 by one year as a consequence of the global pandemic, Pascoe wondered if waiting a further 12 months for the Games was a step too far.

“The original plan was to do Tokyo 2020 last year and re-evaluate what’s next in my life,” Pascoe shared.

“There was a lot of grieving around the postponement and just trying to get myself back up to continue for another year.”

“It’s been a really tough year for me mentally.”

“I just felt my identity had gone because I didn’t have swimming” – Sophie Pascoe

Pascoe’s training also took a hit due to New Zealand’s stringent restrictions to help curb the spread of Covid-19.

The Laureus World Sports Award nominee went 12 weeks without being in the pool.

Getting back into training meant starting a few steps back which, in the end, presented new opportunities for Pascoe:

“I did a lot of other activities outside of the pool that included the likes of yoga, and really stripped-down swimming.”

Pascoe and her team soon realised that the swimmer didn’t need to spend so much time in water to get results. The emphasis on quality over quantity saw the Paralympian’s splits continue to improve.

“I was finding myself getting better in the water and my times were still really good training times but I didn’t have to do as much water training. So I balanced that out with land training as well which included gym, a bit of HIIT training, boxing, and yoga again.”

Finding that training equilibrium both in and out of the pool has paid the New Zealander dividends at Tokyo 2020.

Picture by 2021 Getty Images

Sophie Pascoe: Paralympian, powerhouse and role model

One thing that Pascoe enjoys more than anything else is her role at the forefront of disability sports in New Zealand.

As one of her country’s leading Paralympians, Pascoe has won New Zealand’s Sportsperson with an Impairment of the Year four times.

Speaking about the platform her sporting success has provided, the four-time Paralympian proudly said:

“I absolutely relish it. I’m fortunate enough that I get to do what I love on a world stage.”

Part of the swimmer’s advocacy involves sharing much of her life on social media. It’s something the para athlete says she does so aware of the responsibilities involved:

“I try and be as honest and myself as much as possible.”

“I am not going to lie, sometimes it’s tough and we’re not robots, we are humans, but I do like to show as much of my life as possible on there [social media] and just hopefully be an inspiration to that next generation coming through in the Paralympic movement.”

“I do relish it. We’re in a world and society right now that needs to see this and see the growth of the Para movement. I enjoy being a part of it” - Sophie Pascoe

Picture by 2021 Getty Images

Pascoe's mindset for the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games

Though Pascoe has already more than delivered in the pool in Japan, ahead of her competition start the Kiwi was keen to emphasise that while sporting success is important, it is not, and should not be, the only driver.

“It’s about taking each day and giving the best I possibly can every day to the point it comes to race day, and I can only give my best.”

“Reaching for the top and breaking world records, winning gold medals – that doesn’t define who you are.”

“I’m defined by the daughter I am, the partner I am, the sister, the auntie, the friend, the granddaughter.”

“I’m all of those people and that defines who I am as a person. Not the medal, even though that is a bonus on top.”