She started swimming at the age of seven, and by 15 she was New Zealand’s youngest Paralympian – and a medal winner. A decade on, she’s still shattering ceilings and making personal bests. Award-winner, world record-breaker, and Powerade ambassador Sophie Pascoe sat down with us to talk about her incredible swimming career, and why it’s nowhere near over.
You’ve been winning gold medals for a decade. What’s the secret to keeping up that winning streak?
There’s a point in your life where, obviously, you’ve matured and grown – we’ve seen that from the 15-year-old Sophie to the 25-year-old Sophie. Back then I was getting personal bests all the time, and that was fantastic. Now, 0.01 of a second is a huge personal best. The standard I’ve set – well, some of them are world records. I’m not going to be constantly breaking world records.
You still train harder than ever.
Because we want to beat my time – and that time we’re striving for will beat the gold medal records. When you stand behind those blocks, you can’t look back and say, “what if?”
As someone who’s been swimming since early childhood and won a chest-full of international medals– have you achieved your dream yet? Or is there more to go?
The goal is to try and retain how consistent I’ve been over past campaigns, and do even better than that. When you win gold, you become a little greedy, in a way – that feeling of winning is so powerful, in what it can do to other people let alone myself. I’m always striving for gold. So – the goal at the moment is Tokyo, and then I’ll re-evaluate Paris.
Are you close with the other Powerade ambassadors (Kane Williamson, Israel Dagg, Steven Adams)?
I know those boys, and we don’t just see each other as athletes, we see each other as friends as well. That’s the special thing about Powerade. New Zealand’s a real community, and a really humble nation that’s proud of our sports stars. To be the first female athlete selected for the Powerade team really empowers me to be a better person and a better athlete.
That’s why being with Powerade is a perfect fit – obviously alongside the hydration and healthy, active lifestyle. I couldn’t ask for a better fit, really.
How does it feel to be on par with international athletes like Steven Adams and Kane Williamson?
I love being alongside Izzy and Steven and Kane. To have Powerade see me as a female, to see me as a Paralympic athlete, and then see me alongside those boys – that sits very well with my values.
What’s the most recent challenge you’ve faced?
The biggest challenge this year was putting myself outside of my comfort zone. Moving myself away from my home luxuries, and my support team here, and putting myself in an isolated situation. I then raced in Cairns off the back of that, and then had surgery – which is something able-bodied people don’t necessarily understand. One of the challenges I face, and have to schedule in, is routine surgeries.
This was a routine surgery that was going to benefit me in the long run, and get me into new prosthetics to let me have a happy lifestyle when I’m older. The surgery was a little bigger than intended: it wasn’t just nerve removal, it ended up being the fibula as well. It’s been a month-long period of being on crutches, being out of the water, and being out of routine – I struggle with that!
As you can imagine, after doing this for 17 years you develop a routine. I’ve had to focus on other things, and that’s been really hard this past month. Being on bedrest, as an up and active person, put me in a position where I felt stuck. To accept that what I’m doing is about the future can be hard in the moment
When you’re in such a lonely sport like swimming, you have a lot of time to think. It’s about surrounding yourself with a support network, and like I said – I’ve got the best in the world. I’m not afraid to put my hand up and say I need some help. I can’t do this without support. People think this is a one-man team, but it’s not.
Where can we see you race next?
I have world champs next year, which is the qualifying race for Tokyo. That’s in Kuching, Malaysia at end of July/early August. This is a big competition for us, because it tells us what to expect in Tokyo. I like to be one step ahead of my competition, and it’s an interesting one because you get to see what’s going to come out in Tokyo. But that’s another year after Kuching, so ultimately we just have to expect the unexpected.
What’s your favourite stroke?
My least favourite stroke is breaststroke. It takes people with two legs to do that stroke, so it’s a bit of a weakness for me! It’s hard to be good at all four strokes, which is why the training is so intense.
I don’t think my coach would allow me to try any other sports, and I don’t think you’d want to watch it, either! Swimmers are some of the most uncoordinated people. We only know how to swim.
We heard you’re studying at the moment. How’s that going?
Yes, I’m studying business and management! It allows me to challenge myself mentally outside of the pool – I haven’t studied since high school, so it’s hard. I handed my assignment in ten minutes before it was due, like every other student. I do need to have a little normality in my life, and I missed out on a lot of school.
I also need to start thinking about life after swimming. I hopefully finish in March, and the plan is to find something a bit more visual and learn by the people surrounding me. Maybe an internship somewhere or working hands-on – something that can be balanced alongside my training, because my main focus is still Tokyo.
Would you ever work for Powerade?
This is the great thing about being aligned with trustworthy brands – opportunities can arrives any time. You never know where that’s going to lead!