Posted on Monday 18th November, 2019

ANZ is supporting the next generation of Para athletes achieving their aspirations though the ANZ Paralympic Pathways programme. The programme offers support both on and off the field. Read this story on Paralympian Tupou Neiufi.

Paralympic swimmer Tupou Neiufi says the support of the ANZ Paralympic Pathways programme has been vital as she builds towards the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics in Japan.

The 18-year-old is aiming for selection and targeting a medal in her specialist event, after making strong progress over the last few years.

It has meant making all kinds of sacrifices.

As an example, Neiufi decided to leave Otahuhu College at the start of 2019 — foregoing her Year 12 study — to focus completely on her Paralympic dream.

She has a huge training load, with up to nine two-hour sessions per week in the pool. Neiufi also does two gym sessions a week, as well as boxing and spin classes.

All that dedication and commitment has paid off, as Neiufi achieved a stunning silver medal at the World Championships in September in the women’s s8 100m backstroke.

She broke an Oceania record in the heats, before a brilliant swim in the final to place second and seal a place for New Zealand at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics. Neiufi also finished eighth in the S8 50 m freestyle final.

It shows she is on track for success next year, but it hasn’t been easy. Neiufi comes from a humble background, and a family of seven children, so the support provided by the ANZ Paralympic Pathways – through financial assistance and practical skills and training – has been invaluable.

“It’s about achieving things inside and outside the pool,” said Neiufi. “It’s about being able to get myself ready for Tokyo, to medal on the podium, and to get my mind space into the right space.”

Neiufi has hemiplegia — paralysis on one side of her body — and a traumatic brain injury after she was struck by a speeding car as a two-year-old. The left side of her body is weaker and smaller than her right, and the damage to her brain means she can tire quickly.

It’s more evidence of the courage and dedication of Neiufi, as her training load has to be managed carefully.

Neiufi was introduced to swimming at the age of eight. She progressed steadily and in 2015 achieved a qualifying time for the Rio 2016 Paralympics.

She wasn’t initially selected, due to a slot not being available, before the then 15-year-old received a late call-up to Brazil.

Neiufi made the most of the experience, reaching the S9 100m backstroke final where she finished seventh. The South Auckland based athlete also made the Gold Coast Commonwealth 2018 Games team, also achieving a seventh place in the S9 100m backstroke final.

The Tokyo 2020 Paralympics will be another step up but she is confident of achieving peak performance.

Story written by NZ Herald.