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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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Dylan Alcott playing in the finals of wheelchair tennis at the Rio Paralympics.

Wheelchair tennis is so much about anticipation and commitment. A wheelchair can’t move as abruptly or quickly as the human body, so wheelchair athletes have to make earlier decisions to move to a space as they require more time to go from A to B, even with the rule that allows a ball to bounce twice before returning it.

Other than that, wheelchair tennis is the same as the tennis we see from the likes of the Williams’ sisters, Federer, Nadal and Murray. Playing angles. Serving wide and volleying into open court. Lobbing and dropping shots. Fighting over line calls.

Brit Andy Lapthorne and Aussie Dylan Alcott represent the best of competitive wheelchair tennis, and they played each other in the Quad singles wheelchair tennis finals at the 2016 Rio Paralympics. Alcott defeated Lapthorne 6-3, 6-4 to bring home the gold for Australia.

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Alcott is an athlete. He not only won gold in men’s quad singles and quad doubles in Rio, he also won gold in Beijing and silver in London on Australia’s men’s wheelchair basketball team.

But when the 25-year-old thinks back to his 12-year-old self, the confident Alcott remembers a totally different person. “I was an insecure kid about my disability,” he said post-match. “A few kids used to call me a cripple, and I hate that word. I used to believe them. If you told me back then when I was 12 and not wanting to go to school that I’d be a triple Paralympic gold medalist across two sports, I would have said ‘get stuffed’.”

Sports has become the open door for so many people who have been considered “disabled”. And with the growing importance of achievement in international competitions like the Paralympics, more funds are being invested in the training and support of disabled athletes. The governing body of tennis in Alcott’s country, Tennis Australia, has supported the growth and popularity of tennis in Australia, including those wheelchair bound. Alcott credits Tennis Australia in this Sydney Morning Herald article.this link

Tennis Australia sat me down and said if you want to do this properly, we’ll support you. And I said ‘I don’t want to be supported like a wheelchair tennis player, I want to be supported as a tennis player, like Nick Kyrgios is, or Sam Stosur is. I don’t care that I’m in a wheelchair. If you treat me equally to them, I’ll do it. And they did, and they gave me everything that I wanted. They treat me as if I’m Roger Federer.

Alcott is likely unknown to most of us, but for those kids in wheelchairs, with boundless energy trapped inside, he is a role model and a hero.

“I’ve got an income, I travel the world. I love my life,” Alcott said as he basked in the elation of his gold medal achievement.

And like all champions, the road has been long and hard. You know it has. You can see it in the warm embrace Alcott and Lapthorne share at the end of the match, which you can watch at this link.

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Can you guess which one Mehrzad is?

At nearly 2.5 meters tall, there are very, very few people in the world taller than Mr Morteza “Mehrzad” Mehrzadselakjani of Iran. And as it turned out, this giant of a man led his Iranian volleyball team to Paralympic gold in Rio last month. In the finals against Bosnia Herzegovina, Iran outspiked their opponents 59-42, and Mehrzad, as he is popularly known , slammed home 26 of those spikes.

That is to be expected in the sport of Paralympic volleyball, where athletes are all sitting. These paralympic athletes play by normal volleyball rules, except that the net is only 1.15 meters high. Mehrzad, even when he is sitting, has a reach of over 6 meters. So it’s no wonder that this Persian paralympian can dominate a match.

One would think that being so tall would be a wonderful advantage. But in fact, Mehrzad fractured his pelvis in a bicycle accident when he was 16, which somehow stunted the growth of his right leg, which is now about 15 centimeters shorter than the left. Because of that, and the fact that he suffers from a rare condition known as acromegaly that results in abnormal growth, he has not had an easy life.

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Mehrzad spiking his team to victory in the Rio Paralympics sitting volleyball finals.

Relegated to a wheelchair and crutches due to his legs, and insecure due to his appearance, Mehrzad suffered from depression. But then one day, five years ago, a coach saw Mehrzad on television and believed that he could be a great paralympic athlete. “I was alone, I was depressed,” he told Iranian TV about his life growing up. “But my life has changed from playing sitting volleyball and being a Paralympian.”

See Mehrzad in action in the video below.