For Sophie Pascoe, 2016 proved the perfect reward for countless hours of hard slog, determination, and self-sacrifice.
The 24-year-old took home three golds and two silver medals at the Paralympic Games in Rio. Her third Games, the powerful swimmer from Christchurch has now amassed a staggering 15 Paralympic medals cementing herself as New Zealand's most decorated Paralympian.
The annual award ceremony honours remarkable individuals from the world of sports along with the greatest sporting achievements throughout the year.
On top of this, Sophie won the prestigious Sport New Zealand Leadership Award at the Halberg Awards this month as well as boarding a plane to Monaco after being nominated for Sportsperson of the Year with a Disability Award at the Laureus World Sports Awards.
First traditional Golden Bay Christmas in years
But in amongst rigorous training sessions, medals, and attending award ceremonies, Sophie says it’s been nice to have been able to take some time out to rejuvenate and refocus.
“I took a good break away from the pool at the end of last year and went on holiday to America as well as a Central American trip from Playa del Carmen to Belize and Guatemala.”
She says due to her training schedule, it’s been a few years since she’s been able to have a traditional family Christmas camping up in Pohara, Golden Bay.
“I finally got to do this which was special. We spent a good week together enjoying the Golden Bay weather fishing and doing water activities.
“I also got to spend time with my partner’s family around Cambridge and Whangamata.”
She says the well-earned rest has set her up nicely for 2017.
“I wanted to come into this year feeling fresh rather than stale because I spent a lot of time going up and down the pool leading up to the Rio success.”
Giving back humbling and a real privilege
After returning from Rio, Sophie also spent time visiting schools to inspire the students and share about the experience.
“This was aimed at school leavers who obviously need to prepare themselves for the outside world whether that’s keeping themselves fit and healthy, looking at their financial fitness, goal setting, discipline, and having a healthy mind.
“Given I’m only a few years older, it was great to be able to share tips from my current lifestyle, and how I challenged myself when I was at school.
“It’s not just the students that hopefully benefit fromit. I know I do. It’s a pretty humbling feeling being in the position I am.”
Nominated on the world stage
“For me personally, I felt that I had a successful year last year but to have my results recognised on the world stage is pretty amazing. It’s not every day you get that recognition, especially for Paralympics which you can see is growing more and more.Even though she didn’t win her category, Sophie says being nominated for the Sportsperson of the Year with a Disability Award at the Laureus World Sports Awards was an amazing experience.
“To be one of the few that they selected was huge.”
The Disability Award went to Italian wheelchair fencer, Beatrice Vio, who won gold at the Rio Paralympics.
Gold Coast Commonwealth Games
Back in the pool, Sophie says she has her mind set on the 2018 Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast.
“That’s really the short-term focus at this stage.
“I will not rule out Tokyo, it’s definitely on the horizon, but it’s also about taking each year as it comes. To think that I’ve done three campaigns already, pulling out a fourth is going to be pretty special and also very challenging.”
She says outside the pool, 2017 is about balance and focusing a little bit more on Sophie as well as Sophie Pascoe which she’s excited about.
“I’m taking up some challenges outside of the pool and focusing on the future and what could potentially be my career after swimming."