Q&A with New Zealand swimmer Tana Pungatara

14th September 2014


14 September 2014

Fresh from competing in the ISD 50 metre freestyle and breaststroke we caught up with New Zealand's Tana Pungatara to hear his thoughts on the Invictus Games, presented by Jaguar Land Rover.

Pungatara is 53-years-old and was left partially paralysed by an accident in 1994 when he was in the Navy Diving Team.

How did you sustain your injury?

It was May 1994 and we were carrying out a diving operations mission in New Zealand by Great Barrier Island and we were working in 97 metres of water.

It was the last dive of the day and the seas had turned rough and the weather got cold so they had to abort the dive.

We left the bottom to come back up and the umbilicals had got wrapped around the lifting wire and one of us had to go out and clear them in order for us to be able to travel back to the surface.

That was me. I went out and there was a pressure release which created bubbles in my blood system so I got a gas embolism in my spinal system which left me partially paralysed from the chest on the left hand side downwards. However about a year or two after that I managed to recover as when those nerves were destroyed other nerves took over.

What inspired your recovery?

My children and my wife. I had a two-year-old son at the time and another on the way and I wanted to do things and be active so I pushed myself really hard to get myself fit again.

Actually it was the swimming that made me recover fully because I was always in the pool most of the time, working the muscles to get that left side going again.

You can’t just do nothing and rely on people to help you. It has come from within the heart and within the mind.

How did you come to compete in the Invictus Games?

My accident happened over 20 years ago and I was asked by our defence force to compete because I fit the category but after meeting up with the rest of our team I felt guilty being here because I can see amputees and paraplegics all around me.

But I was told afterwards I should never, ever feel guilty. My accident happened years ago and I have recovered.

For those that are still recovering they can see me as light at the end of the tunnel. Coming here is inspiring. I’m looking at people, not just what they physically had to go through but their mind-set to push through to be where they are now.

What do you hope the future is for these Games?

I am fully behind the Invictus Games and when I get back to New Zealand if there is anything I can do in order to push Invictus forward, I’ll do it.

It would be great to have an ANZAC version, I don’t think New Zealand can host it but Australia may be able to and with our support who knows.