Disability no barrier to Sophie's swim success

JONATHAN CARSON
Last updated 05:00 10/02/2014
Sophie Ridgway
CHRIS HILLOCK

NO EXCUSES: Sophie Ridgway says she doesn’t let cerebral palsy stop her from achieving her goals.

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Hundreds of children took part in the Weet-Bix Kids Tryathlon in Hamilton yesterday, but the achievement was extra special for one young swimmer.

Sophie Ridgway, 9, couldn't float in water let alone swim the length of a pool 18 months ago.

The St Peter Chanel Catholic School pupil has cerebral palsy, which affects muscle development and limits movement in her legs.

However, yesterday she swam two 50-metre lengths in the annual children's triathlon at Waikato University.

Her journey started about two years ago when she signed up for pool therapy and swimming lessons with Ace Learn to Swim swim school manager Fiona Henderson.

"She started training and she couldn't swim, she couldn't float, couldn't go under," Miss Henderson said.

Sophie was swimming freestyle after a few months of lessons.

"Then I said to her: ‘right, we need to have a goal now'. And her goal was to swim to the deep end because she freaked out at the deep end, and then she started to swim lengths and then we decided that she needed a new goal."

That goal was to swim in the triathlon, which she achieved yesterday.

"It's very remarkable to me. I'm so proud of her," Miss Henderson said. "She's a very determined little girl."

Sophie's next goal is to return next year to do the swim and run and she hopes to one day compete in the Special Olympics. "I'm very proud," she said.

Mum Denise Ridgway was "super proud" of her daughter.

"It's not even just the physical, it's the psychological battle for children with disabilities to realise they're actually able to do a lot more than they give themselves credence for."

Among the other young athletes yesterday was Ryan Owens, 8, who completed the 100m swim, four kilometre cycle and and 1.5km run solo.

"It was a bit hard," he said at the finish line after receiving his medal from Olympic BMX silver-medallist Sarah Walker.

But his preparation had paid off.

"We went to (Gallagher Aquatic Centre) and did some laps and I ran around the block by our house."

Every competitor received a medal for their efforts because the event is about participating rather than winning.

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- Waikato Times

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