For those who might not know, tell us a little bit about your story…
I was born with a condition called Arthrogryposis Multiplex Congenita, a rare disorder characterised by fusion of joints and absent muscle formation in my legs.
There’s not a lot medicine can do for this condition, although I spent a lot of time in hospital. I had my first operation at 4 weeks old, and was admitted to the children’s hospital thirteen times before my 15th birthday.
In 2006 I made my international debut for Australia at a Para-Equestrian Dressage Competition in Canada. Riding a borrowed horse and with only a few days practice together we won a bronze medal.
In 2012 I joined the Brisbane Canoeing Club to learn how to paddle kayak and outrigger canoe boats. I made my first Australian Para-Canoe Team in 2014 and placed 6th at the World Championships in Russia. Also in 2014 I competed at the Outrigger Canoe World Championships in Brazil where I won a individual Silver medal and 2 team Gold medals for Australia in World Best time.
At the 2015 ICF World Championships in Italy, I won a Bronze medal in the k1 (individual kayak) and qualified a quota place for Australia at the 2016 Rio Paralympic Games, where the sport of Para-canoe would make its Paralympic debut. I also won Gold in the V1 (outrigger canoe) race and my maiden World Title with a Personal Best and World Best time.
I successfully defended my V1 World Champion Title at the 2016 World Championships in Germany and won Bronze in the K1 event.
I proudly represented Australia at the 2016 Rio Paralympics Games. In the K1 event I won a Bronze medal and was the first Australian (and first female) in history to win a medal in Para-canoe at the Paralympic Games.
Describe yourself in 5 words…
Determined, positive, strong, passionate, sporty.
What sparked your interest in canoeing?
My friend Lyndsee and I randomly found out about a come and try day for canoeing and we went along to try something new and have some fun. It was a great adventure and I discovered I was a bit of a natural in the boat.
I really enjoyed the freedom of being out on the water and the peacefulness of the outdoors. My previous sports probably help me pick up paddling quickly, from my early swimming days I had good feel for the water and equestrian taught me how to balance. I joined the Brisbane Canoeing Club so I could paddle regularly and started to fall in love with the sport.
You’ve experienced ups and downs throughout your sporting career. How did you overcome the tough moments? And what has been the best moment so far?
Best moment was definitely representing Australia at the Rio Paralympics and winning a Bronze medal! It was a dream come true! I was so proud of myself for never giving up on my dream to represent my country at the Paralympics despite many obstacles along the way and changing sports.
The tough moments are difficult to deal with at the time but they can also show you what you are really made of and how strong you really are. Working hard, being persistent, and adaptable to change has helped me overcome the tough moments and achieve my goals.
Who inspires you and why?
My mum has always inspired me to follow my dreams. She has been a very positive influence on me and always supported my journey through the ups and downs. She has always encouraged me to try new things and believed I could achieve anything I wanted to in life.
What’s next for Susan? What’s your next big goal? Career or other…
I have always dreamed big so making another Paralympics Games would be incredible! I am the current World Champion in individual outrigger canoe so I hope to defend my title this year and get more medals for Australia at the World Championships.
Outside of sport, I love working with animals and really enjoy doing charity work and volunteering at the RSPCA and Riding for the Disabled. I’m always open to new opportunities and challenges so I’m excited for what the future will bring!!
You’ve clearly got an amazing drive and competitive spirit… what’s your secret to keeping it alive?
I have always been a very determined person which has helped me work towards my goals and overcome setbacks. I think being competitive for me has always been about self-improvement and challenging myself rather than competing against others. Being positive about small improvements helps keep you going!
And lastly, what’s your message to all the young women who look up to you?
Dream big, never give up and always believe in yourself!