Breaking Barriers: The intersection of disability sport and gender


Interviewed by: Melody Johnston, UN Women Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific

Photo: Con Chronis
Lili-Fox Mason, New Zealand. Photo: Con Chronis

Lili-Fox, an 18-year-old para-swimmer from Christchurch, New Zealand, is not just an athlete, she is an example of determination and inspiration. Her journey is one of overcoming obstacles, pushing boundaries, and embracing challenges with resolve.

At the age of three, Lili-Fox battled leukemia, and contracted a virus that affected her right leg, leaving it with no muscle tone. Despite these early challenges, she embraced life with a fearless spirit, making the most of every opportunity that came her way.

Lili-Fox's love for swimming emerged early on, starting with learn-to-swim lessons, and eventually leading to competitive racing. Initially hesitant to race, through her coach's encouragement she competes regularly, showcasing her talent and determination in the pool.

Joining her local Parafed and swimming club opened doors for Lili-Fox, providing her with a supportive environment to develop and excel. Ensuring fair competition, she participates in para categories at regional, national and international levels, while training alongside non-disabled swimmers, highlighting the inclusive nature of sport.

Photo: Lewis Ryan
Lili-Fox Mason, New Zealand. Photo: Lewis Ryan

The support of her family, particular her mother and uncle, who are both swimmers, has been instrumental in Lili-Fox's journey. Alongside her wider family, they provide her with the independence to pursue her passion while offering unwavering support along the way.

Beyond her achievements in the pool, Lili-Fox is also a swim coach and lifeguard, giving back to the community that has supported her. Her involvement with Parafed Canterbury’s afterschool programme allows her to inspire and mentor young athletes, embodying the spirit of paying it forward.

Lili-Fox's journey is a testament to the transformative power of sport. Through swimming, she has found confidence, purpose, and a sense of belonging. As she continues to pursue her dream of qualifying for the Paralympics, and embarking on a career as a paediatric nurse, Lili-Fox remains an inspiration.