This episode introduces us to Susie Rogers: a gold-medal winning former Paralympic swimmer, who had to overcome the odds on multiple occasions in order to achieve at the highest level.
Susie was born with disabilities which have required her to wear prosthetic limbs since childhood. Rather than expressing regret about this, Susie articulates her gratitude: “I was fortunate to be born in the UK and to be able to get access to support from the NHS”. Right from her early years, it’s clear that Susie’s attitude was one of positivity and possibility: she describes just wanting to “get out there and live my best life.” One way that she did this was to immerse herself in an early-discovered passion: “I’ve enjoyed being in the sea and oceans since I was a kid… open water swimming is definitely my thing”.
Due to society’s lack of understanding and awareness regarding disabilities, as a child, Susie felt that her best approach would be to “blend in” as best as possible. Susie says that knowing that someone was disabled meant “people made assumptions as to things you could and couldn’t do”. She describes being left in the library while other kids got involved in sport. She also talks about a particular experience with a gym teacher who was “chuckling away” while Susie was creating her own gym routine. Susie refers to the gym teacher’s reaction as “patronising” and “frustrating”. Objecting to the way such behaviour often singled her out, she says “we’re living a normal life like everybody else.”
Fortunately, Susie would meet more encouraging individuals once she went to university, including a swimming trainer who first recognised her talent. He suggested that she take competitive swimming seriously and, with that advice and support, Susie’s Paralympic journey began in earnest.
Some years later and Susie had qualified for the 2012 Paralympics, but she had injured herself in training and her ability to compete at the finals was in doubt: “I couldn’t walk or anything”. But, despite fearing the worst, she refused to give up and not only did she make it to the finals, she picked up 3 bronze medals in the process, while achieving a personal best in the 400m Freestyle, a European record which stands to this day.
Four years later, at the Glasgow World Championships, Susie describes once again suffering with her health going into a main event: “I had food poisoning 48 hours before the event… I also had a bad shoulder and neck problem”. Despite these issues, Susie was needed for the relay race and so she got herself through it and ended up winning gold: “it was pure grit that got me through that race and I really was proud of that medal”.
Speaking more generally about attitudes towards those with disabilities, Susie says that people shouldn’t make the assumption that “because someone has a disability, they’re not going to be leading a life like theirs… there’s not an us and them scenario.” Mothering those with disabilities is a way of marginalising them and this perhaps explains why they have been one of the “forgotten groups” during this covid crisis, which has “massively disproportionately impacted people with disabilities in the UK”. Susie demonstrates that having a disability does not mean not being able to have an ordinary, or for that matter, extraordinary life. Her ambition, humility and determination should be an inspiration to us all.