Schoolgirl overcomes brain injury for first Weet-Bix Kids TRYathlon event

Seven year old Siena Coupe suffered a brain injury aged 3, and is now taking part in her first Weet-bix kids TRYathlon. Pictured with her mother Sonia. Photo / Sylvie Whinray

When Siena Coupe gets her little legs going, it feels like she’s going “really fast”.

That, the 7-year-old says of her newfound passion for running, “makes me happy.”

Taking part in ordinary childhood pastimes and rites of passage has not always been easy for Siena, after she suffered a brain injury aged 3.

But 18 months ago the Maraetai Beach School pupil discovered running, blitzing her schoolmates in a cross country race despite doing no training, and on Wednesday will lace up for her first, pandemic-delayed, Sanitarium Weet-Bix Kids TRYathlon.

She’ll run, bike and swim alongside kids aged 6 to 15 from across South Auckland as the 2022/23 TRYathlon season gets under way.

Nearly half a million kids have taken part since the event – aimed at getting all kids to have a go no matter their abilities – began in 1992.

The Sanitarium Weet-Bix Kids TRYathlon 2022/23 season begins this weekend.
The Sanitarium Weet-Bix Kids TRYathlon 2022/23 season begins this weekend.

For Siena, the challenges haven’t been her athletic abilities, but the effects of a tumble at daycare four years ago.

The younger of her two children fell headfirst one meter to the ground after coming off climbing equipment, mum Sonia Coupe said.

While initial medical tests cleared Siena of serious harm, her condition later deteriorated and she was diagnosed with a brain injury.

“She couldn’t sleep at all because she’d lost the sleep signal, and she fell into ‘fight or flight’ [reactions]. She’d lost the rest of [her] emotions, so anything that would happen would trigger her or make her quiet, and there was nothing you could do about it.

“It was scary, she just turned from a very happy child to a child that wouldn’t really talk.”

Siena received treatment from Ranui’s ABI (Acquired Brain Injury) Rehabilitation center and was now about 90 percent recovered, but still struggled in large or noisy environments, Coupe said.

“She still sometimes has ‘fight or flight’ issues. She still struggles with going to birthday parties, especially if she doesn’t know anyone. I’ve kinda gotta stay, and that makes me sad.”

Siena Coupe competed in her first 5km run - the Coastal Fun Run - a few weeks ago.
Siena Coupe competed in her first 5km run – the Coastal Fun Run – a few weeks ago.

But discovering Siena had a passion and talent for running, after she won a school cross country race last year, had been a revelation, especially as no one else in the family was involved in the sport.

“I remember she said, ‘Oh Mum, I want to win a medal’ and I was thinking, ‘Oh crikey, we haven’t even trained or anything’, so I was just ‘run like the wind and do your best’ .

“And then I was looking at the big pack [of running kids] and I couldn’t find her, and her brother went ‘Oh my God, Mum – look’ and she was about 500m in front of all the other kids.”

Now the whole family was excited for Siena to compete in her first, long-awaited TRYathlon.

“I can’t wait, and she can’t either. I think Siena loves running … as she can be herself and doesn’t have to worry about anything else around her.”

After all the years of hospital visits and worries Siena was “missing out on so much” they could support Siena in something positive, she said.

“I feel we’ve got life back … and it’s a really exciting life, because she really loves something and we can all be part of it – and that’s really special.”

Seven-year-old Siena Coupe, third from left, pictured with her parents, from left, Brian and Sonia Coupe, and brother, Janson Coupe, 9, right.
Seven-year-old Siena Coupe, third from left, pictured with her parents, from left, Brian and Sonia Coupe, and brother, Janson Coupe, 9, right.

This year’s TRYathlon ambassador, Paralympic gold medal champion shot putter Lisa Adams, shares Siena’s experience in overcoming challenges to do her best.

Diagnosed with a form of cerebral palsy as a child, the younger sister of two-time Olympic champion shot putter Dame Valerie Adams took up athletics after first trying rugby and rugby league.

“I stuck with it because no one told me I couldn’t.”

She encouraged all Kiwi kids to have a go at TRYathlon, and know that “anything is possible”.

“My son Hikairo is my motivation. If you set your mind to something and put in the work, you can achieve your goals.”

How to take part

Entries are open for the 12 TRYathlon events planned in 11 centers from today until March 29. For more information go to https://tryathlon.co.nz/

Kids living in regions where no physical triathlon event is planned can also take part, through the TRY CHALLENGE program: https://trychallenge.co.nz/

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