Tupou Neiufi

Paralympic swimmer Tupou Neiufi on defying the odds and her desire to inspire others

As New Zealand was in the midst of the latest Covid-19 lockdown, para swimmer Tupou Neiufi's beaming smile after winning a gold medal at the Tokyo Paralympic Games brought joy into homes around the country.

The 20-year-old had fulfilled her childhood dream and represented New Zealand with pride on the world stage. But Neiufi's competitive spirit and confident smile masked an inner turmoil. For years, the Tongan swimmer had struggled with identity and mental health due to the trauma of being picked on because of her disability, both as a child and as a teenager.

Tupou Neiufi: 'I miss the pool a lot'

Neiufi won New Zealand's first gold medal of the Tokyo Paralympics in August, claiming the S8 100m backstroke title.

Unfortunately the 20 year old hasn't managed to get back into the pool since her return.

She got out of MIQ on September 19th and because Auckland was in lockdown decided to move back in with her family in Māngere.

She had been flatting near her training base in Pukekohe.

"It's been crazy I've been itching to get back into training, it's been so long," Neiufi said.

Tupou Neiufi wins gold in Tokyo

The 20-year-old Auckland student from the Pukekohe swimming club was joined on the podium by Ukraine's Kateryna Denysenko in second and America's Jessica Long took the bronze medal.

Neiufi won silver in the event at Rio Paralympics in 2016 and also silver at the world champs in London two years ago.

Neiufi displayed plenty of emotion in her win.

"As soon as I touched the wall, I'm not going to lie - I was a bit confused," she said.