Last night I spoke with Sophie Pascoe – nine Paralympic swimming gold medals, six silver, an amazing athlete and a wonderful person. And what a story. A big part of that story is the terrible accident at two years of age which took one leg and so scarred the other that it gives her constant pain. The story includes a huge desire to be a champion and the years of hard work to get there – training in the pool six days a week and in the gym four days, never missing a training in over a decade. But the biggest part of her story is her family.
The family have only recently talked publicly about the accident. Dad, Gary, who was driving the ride-on mower, calls the accident a black dot that never vanishes from his mind. No one blames Gary – the accident happened in spite of his considerable caution – but he cannot forget it and it is a pain in his life like the pain in Sophie’s leg. What I think is to the Pascoe’s immense credit is that they ignore neither the guilt nor the disability, but they do not allow those things to poison their hearts, minds or family life. Instead, there is energy to be more – more loving, more connected, more encouraging. At 15 years of age, Sophie stood on the podium at Beijing with her first Paralympic gold medal, hugely proud to be a world champion. The eyes of the world were on her but her eyes were on her dad. Tears in her eyes, tears in his. She was a champion for him. Closure.
Stress happens – accidents, illness, tragedy. Some couples part, some families die in their hearts at those times – a tragedy on top of a tragedy. What we can learn from Sophie Pascoe’s family is that maybe you cannot choose the stress, but you can choose whether the stress will push you apart, or push you together.