Sophie Pascoe's stroke of fate

GOLDEN GIRL: Sophie Pascoe at the 2013 Halberg Awards.
GOLDEN GIRL: Sophie Pascoe at the 2013 Halberg Awards.

Christchurch's inspirational golden girl swimmer was just 2 when her father accidentally backed over her on a ride-on mower at their then Halswell home.

Sophie's triumphs on the world swimming stage have made her a household name but until now she and her father Garry have kept their private 1995 tragedy confidential.

But in a dramatic chapter in her biography Stroke of Fate, ghost-written by The Press' award-winning sports writer Tony Smith, the family reveals they are still attempting to recover from it 18 years on.

TROOPER: The swimmer has not let the loss of a leg stop her achieving in the pool.
TROOPER: The swimmer has not let the loss of a leg stop her achieving in the pool.

Garry says: "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."

On the day of the accident Garry says her daughter was "strangely clingy".

"She wanted to be with me the whole time. She even wanted to come with me while I did the mowing. We drove down on the mower and I told Sophie to stay beside the workshop because it was too dangerous on the mower when I was cutting the grass. The precautions I took at the time were the right thing to do, but the accident still happened.

"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."

Pascoe says she was "too young to remember my accident, but my dad Garry, my mum Jo, my sister Rebecca and my nana Yvonne Goodman have vivid memories of a day that changed our lives forever".

Garry adds: "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.

"I was holding Sophie's leg - one leg was almost severed and was bleeding. She was in shock; she'd completely shut down. We managed to rug her up and hold the leg till we got to the Accident and Emergency department at Christchurch Hospital.

"Her left leg was just hanging by a tendon; the heel of her right leg was taken out and the calf muscle was ripped right open. I don't recall her missing a toe on her right foot but the other leg was definitely pretty rough. That's when I broke down.

"There are some things from that day that I'll never share with anyone. It was murder.

"I told the doctors not to show Jo anything when she arrived. It was bloody horrific seeing it. That picture stays in my mind the whole time."

Surgeons operated on Pascoe for six hours and were unable to save her left leg, however, repaired significant damage to her right heel. In ensuing weeks and months Pascoe needed extensive treatment including several skin grafts and micro surgery. However, it quickly came apparent her injuries would do little to inhibit her sense of adventure.

Garry: "She was a pretty gutsy little lady. At her first school sports at the age of five, she won the running race.

"I was working on a house on a Saturday morning and was up on the roof with the owner helping me. We looked around and there was Soph. She'd climbed the ladder and was about to get on the roof. ‘Bloody hell,' I said."

The aftermath of the accident left deep psychological scars on the Pascoe clan.

Worst affected was Garry. "The hospital people offered me counselling but I refused it. I get a memory flashback about three or four times a week.

"It can happen while I'm driving along and you just click into it, give a wee bit of a judder and try to put it away again and just carry on.

"I keep the graphic detail to myself; I will never share that. It's definitely something I don't enjoy talking about."

Wife Jo added: "It's been tough on Garry. Every so often I'll be sitting here at home and I'll know Garry is thinking about the accident. You can see him, he sort of jumps. I know what it is."

The what-if question, what-if the accident had not happened, has been pondered by the Pascoes.

Jo believes her daughter "would be a top swimmer" regardless. "She's up there with the able-bodied swimmers and she's missing a leg."

According to Garry, Sophie believes the accident "is the best thing that's happened to her".

"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."

The Press