Susie Rodgers MBE, a Newcastle University graduate and former Paralympic swimmer, competed at the games in 2012. At the time, they were branded “the greatest Paralympics ever” as records were broken and tickets were sold out. Susie won 3 bronze medals and told me how special it was to do that with her family and friends being a part of the crowd.
Then Rio came along in 2016, new records were set, and the standards were raised further. It was a successful tournament for Susie as well and she brought home the gold along with two bronze medals. Interestingly, the percentage of athletes participating in the Paralympics who were women grew from 35% in 2012 to 46% in 2016. I asked Susie if she knew the reason behind such an incremental increase and she explained, “It’s driven from the top. Quotas are set but it really depends on the country. Here in the UK, for example, the talent pathways are very much equal”.
Susie began her journey towards the Paralympics whilst a Newcastle student. Although she had swum as a child, it wasn’t until she came to university that she became committed to the sport. “I joined the university team. It was good stress relief! I also attended the regional disability swimming centre in Gateshead and started to compete in national competitions”. She took a year out to spend some time abroad as she studied modern languages. After university, Susie moved to London and carried on training and competing nationally and internationally.
It’s clear that Susie enjoyed the relationships built through her time in sport. When I asked her about her favourite sportswomen, she replied “I love all athletes, especially those with humility, men and women, so I can’t just pick one. I met Michael Phelps and I love him, and I’d have to say all of the women on my team as well!” Furthermore, Susie enjoyed meeting athletes from around the world at the games, “I loved it and it was always interesting to hear about the sporting developments going on in their country.”
For Susie, one of the most remarkable things about sport is the way it unites people, “it’s a great leveller”, she explains. Susie now works as an inclusivity advisor for the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, specialising in disability inclusion. Her sporting background was instrumental in motivating her career path and her experience as a Paralympian is something which she is able to draw upon.
I ask what her ambitions are for the Paralympics moving forwards. Susie replies, “I am very happy to see the Paralympic movement continue to grow but I also believe that it should continue to professionalise aspects of the sport including classification, to ensure it is completely transparent and robust.”
For the final interview of our women in sport series I speak with Claire Nelson, CEO of Netball Scotland.