Friday, February 23, 2024

Highly accomplished distance swimmer dies

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Sandra Blewett with her PNZ Order of Merit certificate and pin. Photo paralympics.org.nz

Distance swimmer Sandra Blewett of Cockle Bay has died.

Blewett, who moved to Pakuranga Park retirement village in September 2022, died peacefully on January 1 aged 74.

Her death notice read, “Much loved daughter of the late Jack and Aileen. Sister of Rick, Chrissie and the late Terry and aunty to their respective children.”

Paralympics New Zealand (PNZ) awarded the PNZ Order of Merit to Blewett in 2022 for outstanding service to Paralympics New Zealand and Para sport in New Zealand.

Blewett was involved within Para sport in New Zealand for more than 25 years in a variety of roles including:

  • NZ Para swimming classifier from 1996 to just recently in March 2022.
  • Executive director for Parafed Auckland from 1998 to 2003.
  • Team manager of the NZ team to the IPC World Swimming Championships in Mar De Plata in 1998.
  • Blewett organised the welcome home reception for Sydney 2000 Paralympians
  • Convenor of Selectors for the Para swimming team to the Athens 2004 Paralympic Games
  • PNZ Board member from 2001 to 2008.

Blewett was an advanced swimming instructor and coach for non-disabled and disabled swimmers, a role that she had held since 1971.

She coached paralympians in their early days, in addition to other athletes, saying she prefers to get swimmers started on their swimming pathway and then pass them on to their next coach.

She explains: “People need to be taught the basics properly. If the basics are taught properly, it makes everything after that easier.

“I wanted to teach swimming at that early stage because when you see people realise that they can actually float and swim, watching their faces, it’s a delight.”

Blewett owned and operated the Sandra Blewett Learn to Swim School and was a swim coach for Parafed Auckland. She dedicated most of her life to swimming, teaching, and coaching swimming, in particular for young disabled people and para athletes.

Blewett has swum more than 56 marathon swims around the world including the English Channel, Cook Strait, Foveaux Strait, the Catalina Channel in the USA and four ways across Lake Taupo.

She held endurance records of 44 hours from Whangarei to Auckland, 33 hours for a double crossing of Lake Taupō and a 25 hour swim in a heated 25 metre swimming pool.

Pakuranga Park village reported in an article last August that Blewett knew she wanted to be a marathon swimmer since she took her first swimming lessons when she was 10 years old.

“I learned to swim with Paul Krause at Parnell Baths. The first five days I was too scared to put my head under the water, on the sixth day Paul pushed my head under and I realised nothing was going to happen.

“At the end of the week Paul tested us to see if we could swim long distances, and I managed to swim 1500 metres before they stopped me.

“That day I went home and I told my Mum and Dad I was going to swim Cook Strait, the English Channel and Foveaux Strait! All of which have been achieved.”

In 1991, Blewett was presented with an MBE (Member of the British Empire) by the Queen for services to marathon swimming.

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