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RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – SEPTEMBER 10: Sophie Pascoe of New Zealand celebrates after winning a gold medal in the Women’s 100m Backstroke S10 final on day 3 of the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games at Olympic Aquatics Stadium on September 10, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images for the New Zealand Paralympic Committee) Getty Images

I’ve never spoken publicly about Sophie’s accident before; I’ve always kept it to myself. I don’t think I’ve really recovered from it, actually. It just leaves a black dot in my life. You never get over something like that. Never. It haunts me to this day; it absolutely haunts me.

“It” is an accident that occurred in 1995, one that Garry Pascoe had refused to talk about until the release of the biography of swimming giant, Sophie Pascoe in 2013. What had been known was that Garry accidentally ran a power lawn mower over her 2-year-old daughter, and as a result, Sophie had to have her left leg amputated below the knee.

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Sophie Pascoe getting ready_Kirk Hargreaves/Fairfax NZ

To the credit of the Pascoes, Sophie took charge of her life. Amazingly, she claims in this article from The Telegraph that the accident was “the best thing that ever happened to me”. That is very hard to believe, but it is also hard to argue with her results.

At the age of 7, she learned how to swim, and has never looked back. Eight years later, Sophie Pascoe of Christchurch New Zealand won three gold medals at the 2008 Beijing Paralympic Games. By the time she turned 23, she was a veteran Paralympian, having won a total of 15 medals over the past three Paralympic cycles, including 9 golds.

Pascoe’s father, Garry, quite understandably, had not publicly discussed the accident. But when Sophie’s biography, Sophie Pascoe – Stroke of Fate, came out, so too did the state of mind of her father on that horrible day of September 23, 1995. Here’s an excerpt from the book published in a New Zealand paper, The Press.

I was mowing the raised section of lawn and was in low gear because the surface was a wee bit bumpy. Blow me dead, I went to go in reverse and the mower wouldn’t move. I thought what the s… has happened?’ I looked down and there was Sophie under the mower.

It devastates me to think about it even now. I picked Sophie up and ran next door to the nearest neighbours. But they couldn’t help so I ran to Alistair Bull’s place. We got into his car and shot straight through Halswell up Lincoln Road towards the hospital.

Sophie’s father goes on to relate in the excerpt some rather uncomfortable details. Only two years old at the time, Sophie made it through six hours of surgery. And while she has gone on to tremendous achievements as a swimmer, he cannot erase the memory of that day.

Her swimming success has taken a lot of the pain away. But it will never take away the memory. You just live with it. It’s a big hurdle to live with but I have.

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meiji park aerial view
From WPJRNL http://www.wpjrnl.com/

Peter Snell was an Olympic champion at the Rome Summer Games in 1960, and the New Zealand runner came to Tokyo in 1964 with high expectations to repeat. Like all high performance athletes in a new environment, he quickly wanted to establish a training routine that would create a comfort level and allow him to maintain conditioning. He found his routine in a park just outside the Olympic Village in Tokyo – Meiji Park.

But first, Snell had to deal with the police. He tells his story in his autobiography, No Bugles No Drums.

We reached the village in the late afternoon and were smartly into T-shirts and shorts and off on an exploratory run through the village. After a circuit of the track and a prowl around the various facilities, we went out one of the back gates and, led by Jeff Julian, ran into a wooded area with a maze of fine metal and clay tracks. This was Meiji Park, which has a shrine in the middle of it, and it looked perfect for training.

No Bugles No DrumsBut we encountered an early difficulty. At the entrance, we were halted and gesticulated at by a policeman who eventually made it known to us that in this park we could walk but we could not run. Realising we might be offending some religious belief, we decided as guests of the nation to handle the situation diplomatically – so we walked until we were out of the policeman’s sight before breaking into a run again.

The winding paths of the park gave us an excellent 10-minute circuit and it was obvious that it could play a vital part in our Games preparation as we wanted to run for at least half an hour every morning before breakfast. And, despite the policeman, we succeeded in doing it. Actually, as more and more teams arrived, more and more athletes began running about and I think the Japanese eventually decided it would be preferable to let us run thought the park than add our numbers to the already heavy road traffic.