From the Olympic stadium to Lake Geneva, our Class of 2021 graduate and parathlete Sofia is back and already thinking about the next step. She did, however, make time to share a few tips from her experience as an elite IB student-elite with Haut-Lac Sport & Study Coordinator James.
Finishing 3rd in the T63 100m at the 2019 European Championships was your previous most memorable moment in sport. How does that compare with your achievements at the Tokyo Paralympic Games?
Strangely enough, I feel more honoured to have made it to two Paralympic finals than to have won a bronze medal at the European Championships. I would have loved to win a Paralympic medal, but I was competing at a much higher level against very professional athletes.
My two finals in Tokyo were a lot more emotional given I was up against competitors from around the globe and the whole world was watching. I was actually just aiming to compete and qualify for two finals.
Not only did you compete and qualify for both your event finals, you also set two new personal bests.
Yes, I got a personal best of 16.17 seconds in the 100m and 3.96m in the long jump. I made big improvement in both events so I’m really happy. I now know I can go on to be even better, run faster and jump further.
You only started running at 15, and have already made huge progress. Does that make you optimistic and excited for the future and Paris 2024?
Yes, I was one of the youngest in the finals. I’m really happy to have already reached such a high level and definitely looking forward to Paris 2024 in 3 years’ time.
With my coach and everyone in my team, we’re really looking forward to me being at my best in Paris 2024.
For me, Tokyo was a great learning experience. It was my first Paralympic games and I learnt a lot, including how to manage the stress and the emotions it brings out. Paris will be more of a challenge as I will be pushing for a medal.
You spoke a little about the stress and pressure of being on the world Paralympic stage. How do you stay calm and focused before an event?
I’ve always been a really positive person. When it comes to stress, I’ve learnt to handle it really well.
I get good support from my Swiss team coach and work privately with a sport psychologist. I was also able to speak to the Swiss team’s sports psychologist during the two weeks in Tokyo, which was a big help.
I was more stressed about achieving my goals and qualifying for the two finals. Once I’d done that, I just enjoyed the games, grateful to be there. Achieving two personal bests definitely helped me relax.
Reaching a point when you no longer see progress can sometimes be hard on athletes. It happened to me during the pandemic. I remember thinking “What am I doing? I’m not progressing, should I continue? But, as the Paralympic games showed me, I’m still able to learn and improve.
As a former Haut-Lac student, which skills do you think most helped you manage your IBDP studies, your student life and your sport training?
The most important skill, which was also the one I struggled a lot with, is time management, especially when it comes to school work, exams and IAs. I found making a to-do list based on order of importance and crossing stuff off as I did them helped a lot.
I’d also advise others to accept any offers of help they get, whether from teachers or parents. I would get a lot of emails asking for speakers or interviews, so was glad of my parents help.
We are looking to develop Haut-Lac’s student-athlete programme. Is there anything in particular you think we could do to support young athletes in schools?
I think it’s a great idea to continue developing the programme, as it was only in its initial stages when Karl and I were there.
It would be good to bring in dieticians or sports psychologists, so that the students can learn about them and their roles. I didn’t know about all of these specialists and was quite overwhelmed when I started out in the sports world. It’s really important to know about sports therapists and doctors from the get go, as they have to part of your team.
Haut-Lac should also continue to support students who need time off from school for competitions. When I was granted a week’s leave for a big championship, I knew the school was there for me and it gave me a confidence boost. My previous school didn’t let me go away, which made everything more difficult. It’s really important to participate in big events, as they’re the ones that give you confidence.
I think belonging to a student-athlete group is so important. Karl and I got along really well, even though we were only two and involved in different sports. Being part of team will give sports students a sense of pride in what they do and a support network.
What are your major sources of motivation, sporting or otherwise?
The first is Roger Federer, of course. He’s a swiss athlete and really inspires me with everything he does. He is really well-liked by everyone, even in the media.
The second is Serena Williams. I love tennis actually. It's a sport I like watching, and playing a bit in summer. She’s really inspirational because she still competes even though she’s a mum now, which shows how strong she is. She’s also spoken a lot about mental health.
What are you most proud of in your sporting career so far?
Making it to the Paralympic Games, qualifying for two finals and achieving two personal bests are definitely my most accomplished and proudest moments so far.
As a school, how did Haut-Lac help you on your journey to the Paralympics?
I think they did pretty well! I got my IB Diploma in two years, which I’m really happy about. I didn’t want to do it in three years, as it would’ve hindered my preparation for Paris 2024.
As I said before, the school helped me a lot by allowing me to take up to week off for big competitions that ultimately gave me the confidence I needed to qualify for the Paralympics. The teachers were also very supportive. I’m really happy and thankful they helped me through everything.
When you think about the IB learner profile attributes, such as being a risk taker, open-minded and reflective. How did studying the IB contribute to your personal development?
I think being open-minded really helped me.
The IB also helps you stay disciplined and focused, two things I need to be to continuing improving in the future.
I will be doing a Bachelor in Media Communications and Sociology, which I think will help me a lot in my sport because of all the emails I have to write and the presentations I get asked to do. Both things I did a lot of during the IBDP programme too.
You’re off to university in London soon. What are your big hopes and dreams for the future?
My next big competition is the World Athletic Championships in Kobe, Japan next year. And then it’s Paris 2024.
I also hope to get my BA in media communications and sociology in 3 years’ time and then do a masters before going into the media communication side of sports.
I’d like to work in marketing for a big sports brand or federation like the Olympic and/or Paralympic committee. My career goal is to help promote disability in sport and support the continued growth of the Paralympics.
It sounds like your experience at the Paralympics has inspired both your sporting progress and career goals.
Thank you very much for your time Sofia. I know you are very busy preparing for university, responding to emails and doing interviews at the moment. We wish you the best of luck as a school and will be keeping an eye on your progress. Please keep in touch and hopefully see you soon.
Thank you! Yes, no problem. I can’t stay in London all of the time, so will definitely pop by next time I’m back in Switzerland.
Sport & Study Coordinator