Unsung hero: The inspiring story of Para swimmer Hannah van Wijk

Ryan Boyd
Unsung hero: The inspiring story of Para swimmer Hannah van Wijk

When Hannah van Wijk was born as the youngest of triplet girls, she weighed only 716 grams. She was 12 weeks premature and had to be resuscitated three times.

She had a large hole in her brain, a perforated bowel in three places, a heart murmur, and her skin was transparent. She required at least 15 full blood transfusions,

At three months old, Hannah came home. She was only 1kg and on an apnoea machine as she would occasionally stop breathing. When the alarm went off, her mum would give her a helping hand and away she would go.

At four months Hannah developed a strawberry haemangioma above her right eye. It grew so big it had to be surgically removed.

With all this, it was a foregone conclusion that Hannah would be intellectually disabled and have Cerebral Palsy.

Now, she is a Para Swimmer National Champion with her sights set on Tokyo 2020.


A hidden talent discovered

When she was a child, Hannah discovered the joy of swimming. Not only was it one of the few physical activities she could do, she found out she was very good at it too.

With a particular love for backstroke and freestyle, Hannah won a gold medal at the NZ National Paralympics when she was 12.

Now her walls are adorned with medals, ribbons, certificates. The trophy cabinet is full, she has two NZ Paralympic records in her classification, and was named Swimmer of the Year at her club full of talented able-bodied swimmers.

She has also been nominated for two Attitude Awards, in the Unsung Hero and Emerging Athlete categories, for which the finalists will be announced soon.

It is an amazing achievement for someone whose first competitive swim was a 25m assisted walk in the water.

Overcoming everyday struggles

Hannah can’t drive, ride a bike, tell the time, or retain information. But none of this has stopped her.

At 17 she left her Masterton home (the first of the triplets to do so) and moved to Palmerston North to train full time.

She’s had to learn how to cook, clean, and navigate. She even has a part time job at the pool she trains at and manages her own finances.


Next stop: Tokyo

Hannah’s next goal is a big one: to compete at the 2020 Tokyo Paralympic Games. But she needs your help to get there.

With the help of iSPORT, of which Westpac is a sponsor, Hannah is raising money so she can attend a variety of competitive events around New Zealand and Australia that she needs in order to qualify for Tokyo.

Every little bit counts, so please head to Hannah's iSPORT web page and help Hannah realise her dream.

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