She was born with spina bifida so Kate McKlevie had to take surgery and swimming in her stride pretty smartly.

Instead of letting medical procedures get her down, McKelvie took the plunge into the swimming pool from the age of 4 to create a resolve that has seen her incrementally mould her template over the years.

"Swimming was great for recoveries and I was having lots of that [surgery]," says the 17-year-old para swimmer from Hawke's Bay before heading off to the five-day New Zealand Shortcourse Championship starting in Auckland today.

The Napier Girls' High School pupil competes with a rating of S9 on a scale where S1 swimmers have a more severe physical impairment and, consequently, more activity limitation.

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"It's a preparation meet for the New Zealand Paralympics to the McDonald's Queensland Swimming Championship in Brisbane in December," says McKelvie, who delivered a speech to the Eagle Society of Hawke's Bay-hosted fund-raising golf tournament, to help the Halberg Sport Disability Trust, on September 21.

The year 13 pupil proudly showed Eagle Society members and former All Blacks captain/coach and selector Sir Brian Lochore her spoils from the New Zealand Secondary Schools' Swimming Championship in Hamilton a fortnight ago.

Her goal is to gain selection to the 16th edition of the Summer Paralympics in 2020 to be staged in Tokyo, Japan, from August 25 to September 6 before contemplating another one from there four years later.

But it's one ginger step at a time for the para swimmer towards the giddy heights of Paralympics.

In her fifth NZSS championship, McKelvie returned with two silver medals (50m backstroke, 200m freestyle) and three bronze ones (50m freestyle, 100m freestyle, 100m backstroke).

The teenager, who trains with high-performance members, has already made the cut for the Queensland Champs and sees that as an opportunity for the younger athletes to measure themselves against the elite.

"I was happy with how I swam. I've been out of the pool with surgery so this was the first time back in for a while," she says after going under the knife in May.

McKelvie expects to whittle down her personal-best times as she recovers and works towards her peak form.

On leaving school, she hopes to attend Auckland Institute of Technology next year to pursue a degree in commerce and science.

"I haven't decided which club I'll swim at but I'll find one," she says with a beaming smile.

Because the high-performance squad is based in Auckland, McKelvie sees her move north as a win-win situation.

"All our tops meets are also in Auckland so we don't have to travel that much."

The Hawke's Bay Pathway to Podium athlete found Tupou Neiufi, a Rio Olympian, a tough customer in the pool at the NZSS championship.

"She was too tough a competition," she says of Neiufi, who has hypertonia (left side hemiplegia) after a car struck her when she was 2 years old.

The 16-year-old Aucklander, who trains at the Howick Pakuranga Swim Club under the tutelage of Sheldon Kemp, has an S9 classification, but SB8 (backstroke) and SM9 (individual medley).

Tupou, who also belongs to the Pathway to Podium programme, is ranked world No 2 in the S9 women's 50m backstroke event and world No 6 in the S9 women's 100m backstroke. The programme provides sport services and support to promising athletes, with the goal of having them "carded" within 1-3 years.

McKelvie gravitated towards swimming when she discovered, as a former Porritt School pupil, she couldn't keep up with class mates in other codes such as netball, so swimming became her focal point.

"Everyone was the same and I had the belief that it really suits me," says the former Tamatea Intermediate pupil who swam competitively when she turned 13.

Former Greendale Swim Club coach Noel Hardgrave-Booth had a resume for mentoring children with disabilities into Paralympics material and McKelvie hooked up to it.

From there she joined the NGHS swim team with teacher/co-ordinator Louise Bassett-Foss at the helm.

Her parents are her inspiration and pillar of strength. Her mother, Michelle, is the Bay co-ordinator for junior games (8-21 years) which embraces those with physical disabilities and visual impairment.

She is indebted to the Halberg Disability Trust for helping pave a pathway for her to compete on an international platform.

"It wouldn't have been possible without Halberg because they funded my very first swimming lesson."

She also thanked her coach, former Olympian Daniel Bell, who operates from the Trojan Swim Club in Clive.

"I've been at the club for almost two years now and he's really good with me and understands my disability quite well."

Olympian Sir Murray Halberg established the Halberg Disability Sport Foundation in 1963 with the aim of enhancing the lives of physically disabled New Zealanders through sport and recreation.

That entails, among other things, a team of disability sport advisers around the country connecting physically disabled young people to sport and recreation opportunities via schools, clubs and in their communities, as well as providing grants for adaptive sport equipment.

It also hosts the three-day national junior games in Cambridge for physically disabled and visually impaired 8- to 21-year-olds.