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Van Wijk living out her dreams

Para swimmer Hannah van Wijk in front of her medal cabinet. PHOTO/ELI HILL


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Paralympic swimmer Hannah van Wijk likes to write lists.

They help her remember things and organise her training. Sometimes, she’ll write out her lists multiple times.

Her latest list? What to pack when she goes to compete in next month’s world para swimming series round in Melbourne.

The meet on February 15-17 will give Masterton-born van Wijk the chance to compete against some of the world’s best para athletes.

Van Wijk, 18, is intellectually-impaired because of cerebral palsy and has been deemed ‘clinically dead’ three times.

But she appears to have the drive to achieve her dreams.

She trains twice daily in the pool for a total of 10 hours a week, spends three hours a week in the gym, two hours in spin classes and walks 8km daily to and from the gym.

She competes with able-bodied athletes and beats them too.

Van Wijk swimming backstroke for Manawatu.

She won four silver medals in the 200m and 400m freestyle, and the 100m and 200m backstroke at Wellington’s long-course swimming champs earlier this month.

Mum Denise van Wijk said her daughter’s determination was a mystery.

“She knows what she has to do so she does it. There’s no rhyme nor reason for it. She’s got a target and she sticks to it.

“It’s what Hannah does basically, it’s her full-time job.”

When van Wijk was younger, she suffered from dermatomyositis which meant every muscle in her body was breaking down.

It took doctors 12 months to find a cure, and van Wijk started swimming at age seven as a way to build up her muscle strength.

“And then we found she was really good at it and kept going,” Denise van Wijk said.

“She swam Special Olympics for a number of years before she got a call from Paralympics asking if she wanted to swim for them.”

Van Wijk trains five days a week in Palmerston North, but spends weekends in Masterton.

One day, she would like to race at the Paralympic Games.

In Melbourne, she will compete in the 200m individual medley, 50m freestyle, 200m freestyle, 400m freestyle, 100m backstroke and 400m backstroke .

Swimming competitions at her level are user-funded and her family held a garage sale last Sunday to raise money for the trip. Denise van Wijk said that her daughter’s determination was inspiring.

“Just the fact that for someone with a disability Hannah can do so much. She has died three times, she’s been on life support, she’s had a hole in her brain — you name it, it has happened to Hannah.

“You don’t have to sit at home in a corner, get out there even with disabilities you can do anything.”

Van Wijk had only one piece of advice for aspiring athletes.

“Be the best you can be.”

Coach Lin Tozer has trained van Wijk for the past two years and said the swimmer had “absolute determination”.

“She swam in the able-bodied champs in Wellington and picked up four silver medals from the event.”
Tozer said her charge had no idea how to give up.

“She trains in an able-bodied squad and does whatever she needs to do, they push her and she pushes them.”

“We’re having some trouble working out what her best event is. She’s good at almost everything from the 100m backstroke to the 400m free.”

Tozer was unsure how far van Wijk could go in the sport. It all depended on her attitude.

“As far as she wants to is my feeling.

“This is a great opportunity to experience world class racing and start to understand what it means and what it takes to be a high-performance para swimmer. Who knows where it might take her.”

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