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Sarah Blundell

Para Swimmer’s journey of self-discovery

Athlete Life Advisor Sarah Blundell from High Performance Sport New Zealand has supported Para swimmer Tupou Neiufi on a journey of self-discovery – a critical part of her preparation for the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games.

Sarah describes Athlete Life Advisors as facilitators of change around personal and social development and growth.

“The athletes are the experts. What we are doing is just putting a spotlight on areas where they might be able to minimise barriers and maximise potential for performance in sport and life,” she explains.

Working with Tupou, who has been swimming since she was 10 years old, a big part of Sarah’s focus has been supporting Tupou’s journey from dependence to independence.

“Tupou has recently got her driver’s license and moved out of home – a big step. With that has come her ability to be more confident and assertive in what she does – driving conversations and planning to get things in place.”

“That has been a really strong focus in our work.”

Another key part of Sarah’s work with Tupou has been time and energy management. The Paralympian sustained a brain injury from hit and run when she was just two years old. As a result, she has some paralysis down the left side of her body and impaired muscle power.

“Because of Tupou’s brain injury she often gets fatigued, more than most. So she must be careful where she puts her time and how she expends her energy. After a session at the pool she might go home and have a sleep during the day to balance that out and be ready for the evening training session.

Sarah explains that working with Tupou breaking down the week and what that looks like and getting her to observe how she makes decisions has been an important part of her Tokyo preparations.

“We have made more efficient use of her time based on what energy she has to work with.

“She’s been very receptive, trialing new things and asking herself the right questions. How can she be more efficient at pool time? How can she do some exercises, maybe take a bit of time after training before she drives home to give herself a bit more space?”

Sarah says she was looking to increase Tupou’s self-confidence and assertiveness to lead her own campaign.

“Some of that was around raising her self-awareness, navigating those courageous conversations, identifying what her priorities are and how she can communicate more clearly.

“I could see she was incredibly capable of thinking about what really matters to her. And that saying no is OK because you are actually saying yes to your own energy.”

“Now she is really assertive about who her tight team is and their roles that contribute to her performance and wellbeing.”

Sarah says Tupou is open to growth and learning and able to make better decisions around how she manages her day, which is even more important since she moved out of home.

“She is a mature, confident and humble young woman. She has a strong purpose and drive which is closely linked to her Tongan culture and her community. She has huge respect and is very grateful for the people who support her.”

“She finds freedom in swimming because when she gets in the pool it is a quiet and peaceful place for her to be.”

Watching on from Auckland when Tupou competes in Tokyo, Sarah will feel “like a proud mum”.

“I just feel incredibly humble to be part of her journey. Knowing the person she is, I think I will feel nervous and excited for her but just super proud of how much mahi she has put in to get to the starting blocks.

“She’s really inspiring, not only as an athlete but as a Tongan female. She is a great role model.

“There will probably be some tears if I’m honest. Lots of emotions and lots of smiles. I will be incredibly proud no matter what happens.”