When Sophia Lewis was at Sacred Heart College, she had a dream to one day walk the length of the country.
Now, more than three decades later, and four years after achieving that very goal, she was back at her old school inspiring the next generation.
Not only did the walk teach Sophia a lot about herself, it was also the inspiration to teach others.
“I know it sounds so strange but it does feel like yesterday that I was here as well. So it is just to give them a little bit of hope that you can do what you want to do if you get on and do it and just see what’s on the other side.
“You have all these thoughts of things you want to do when you are younger and you think everything is possible and then you go through the stage of adulthood and you realise it is harder than you first thought, so anything to help them,” she said.
On Tuesday she spoke to the whole school, and year 7 and 8 students looking to go to the college. In a testament to the special bonds formed at the school, she was joined by two of her school friends who she still keeps in contact with.
“There is a special bond with Sacred Heart and you just want to encourage that. You sort of want to let them know there is a sisterhood out there thinking about them.”
Sophia was always earmarked for success during her five years at Sacred Heart College from 1981-1985.
And in her final year, she was Head Girl. This proved to be correct, with her holding senior positions within ANZ, currently as Remuneration Consultant.
She sat on her dream for “years”, studying, travelling, and having a family.
In 2011, a movement to connect a number of tramping trails and walking tracks from Cape Reinga to Bluff became an official trail called the Te Araroa Walkway.
“To mark the occasion they put a plaque in one of the children's playgrounds in Island Bay and it’s not far from where I was living at the time and that’s when I definitely knew ‘I’m doing that walk’,” Sophia said.
During the year it took her to plan for Te Araroa, she walked the Oxfam Trailwalker – an event which challenges teams of four people to walk 100km.
“I wanted to do something really big … something that would push me on every level; physically, emotionally and mentally. Just really push the boundaries.”
In April 2016, after about six months, she completed the 3000km walkway.
“I honestly felt like I could run the first few days. After all this planning I was actually going to do it and then as time went on it was really demanding and physically challenging and it was the ultimate challenge I was looking for because it was tough.
“But because it was so tough it made it so much more satisfying having completed it because not everybody does.”
It wasn’t just the scenery that stuck with her but her newfound respect for food and water, mental toughness and unforgettable people that she met along the way.
On the North Island, she was walking between 25km-30km a day, and that only became more physically demanding when she went to the South Island.
Not only was mental toughness, and the ability to “just keep going” important, but so too was the realisation that you need to “walk your own walk”.
“Somedays I would be making great gains and thinking I’m doing really well and then there would be somebody who would shoot by you. Someone is always faster, someone is always better, someone is always stronger, and they were walking their own walk.”
Among her other achievements is walking to the Everest Base Camp with a group of friends. However, she got altitude sickness as she was descending from base camp and had to be helicoptered back to Kathmandu.
She encouraged the students to go back to their dreams, “dust it off, break it down and look at how you can achieve it”. “Visualise yourself doing it and just go and do it.
“Having a long-held dream about something you’ve always wanted to do, then putting a plan in place to go and achieve it is so very very satisfying.”
Principal Maria Neville-Foster says Sophia is a true inspiration and carries the mission of the college with her.
She said it is “so important” to hold onto the mantra of “walk your own walk”.
“There are so many pressures out there to be someone or to be something and it is actually about walking your own walk at the end of the day.
“Sophia showed us what can be achieved when you are true to yourself when you are honest about what you can achieve and you give yourself the best shot at it.
“I believe everyone can achieve their goals, their only limitation is themselves. I know it will inspire our girls to be the best possible person they can be.”
Mrs Neville-Foster thanked Sophia for spending her time at the school and sharing her story.