By JORJA HETA

 

You might have seen Tupou Neiufi competing in the Rio Paralympics this year. At just 15 years old, she’s taking on swimmers from around the world and being a champ! We caught up with her to chat about swimming, school, success and Sophie Pascoe.

 

What school do you go to and where do you train?

Otahuhu College… I train at Howick Intermediate and Moana-Nui-a-Kiwa Pool (Mangere), and my strength and conditioning sessions I do at the Millennium.

 

You were inspired to begin swimming by your idol, Sophie Pascoe. What was it about her and swimming that drew you to pursue this path?

I started swimming lessons as part of my rehab. I had a very weak left side and needed to use it more, but it wasn’t ‘till I watched Sophie race that [I was] inspired to try competitive swimming. Like her I want to be a champion, a Paralympic champion. 

 

How do you balance the demands of swimming training and school? 

I’m very fortunate that the school I attend is very flexible, so I’m able to train during school. I have teacher aides who help me when I need, and sometimes if I’ve got a double training session I’ll do my homework during lunch. It helps when I have a schedule where we’ve worked out my training times and classes, and I just stick to that. I’m competitive in the pool and in the classroom; I don’t like to fall behind.

 

You’ve managed to achieve so much despite your brain injury and at the young age of only 15! How do you deal with the stress and pressures that come with this? 

I have a great support network who not only keep me grounded, but help me deal with any stress or pressures I’m feeling.

 

Had you ever travelled overseas before Rio? What were you most looking forward to in Rio?

Only to Australia and Tonga, but now I can say, U.S.A. and Brazil too… Being surrounded by world-class athletes from different sports, especially the para-swimmers. I knew that through this experience I’d be able to learn a lot from the best in the world, and of course I was looking forward to racing!

 

What is your plan now the Paralympics have come to a close for this year?

I have a week and a half and then I’ll be racing at NZ short course swimming champs, and after that probably take a week off before getting back into training to build up for the 2018 Commonwealth Games and 2020 Tokyo Paralympics.

 

What advice would you give to youth striving towards their ambitions and dreams, just like you?

Keep striving to reach your goals and dreams. If you fall, get back up, dust yourself off and keep going, because you’ll never know unless you give things a go. Believe in yourself, but most importantly, be you!

 

What do you enjoy doing in your free time when you’re not training or attending school?

Spending time with family, going to movies with my friends and reading.

 

If you could only pick five things to bring with you to a deserted island, what would they be?

Togs, food, drink, a book and family. I know you said five, but can’t go without my family.

 

What’s a secret talent about you that a lot of people don’t know?

I’m a bookworm… yep, I love books!

 

What is one of the major challenges you’ve faced and how did you overcome it?

When I wasn’t originally selected for the team I was pretty sad, but thanks to the amazing support from everyone I was reminded how much I love to swim and race and was able to get back and train, just in case I do get a call up – and I did.

 

Tupou is a finalist in this year’s Attitude Awards! The award ceremony will be held on 29 November at the ASB Showgrounds. Go to attitudelive.com for all the details!

You can also check out her official Paralympics New Zealand profile here.

Tupou Neiufi pre-race. BW Media.

Tupou Neiufi pre-race. BW Media.

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