Susan Seipel is an Australian Paralympic Bronze medallist & Triple Paracanoe World Champion. Susan is one of our very first #CoolAmbassadors and all round superwoman, she is currently rocking a purple pair of Cool Crutches and looking pretty fab doing it too!
This month we were lucky enough to chat to Susan and find out about her biggest successes, her hopes for those living with a disability and her continued ambitions to achieve.
Can you tell us a little about growing up with Arthrogryposis Multiplex and how it affected you as a child/young adult?
I was born with a condition called arthrogryposis, characterised by fusion of joints and absent muscle formation in my legs. It affects my mobility, so I spend my time using a wheelchair or Cool Crutches and splints to walk. I had to undergo many operations as a child, my first at only 4 weeks old. Growing up I was admitted to the children’s hospital thirteen times before my 15th birthday.
Sport was introduced to me as a form of physiotherapy to help with my condition. At age four I was taught to swim and developed a great fondness for the sport. Swimming was a great equaliser, in the water it didn’t matter about my legs as I compensated by using my much stronger arms and I was able to keep up with my peers in the pool. I enrolled at the McIntyre Centre Riding for the Disabled (RDA) at the age of seven and enjoyed 20+ years of animal therapy riding horses and got to represent my country internationally in Para-equestrian dressage.
How did you first get into kayaking/canoeing?
In 2012 I attended a ‘come and try kayaking’ day run by Australian Olympian, Amanda Rankin. I enjoyed it so much that later that year I joined my local canoeing club and started to learn more about paddling. I didn’t think at all when I started that I would make it to the Paralympics, I just loved the challenge of mastering a new sport and the social aspect of being part of a club. In 2014, I competed at the State Championships which was my first regatta, racing ignited my competitive spirit and the rest is history.
When did you realise you wanted to win a Paralympic medal?
I remember watching the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games on television. The games being held in my home country, the whole of Australia including myself was caught up in sporting fever. Unfortunately, the Paralympics didn’t get the same amount of media coverage, only a daily highlights program which I watched religiously. I was a teenager at the time and seriously into the equestrian sport of dressage. I knew most of the para-equestrian athletes on the Australian Paralympic Team. Australia did very well in dressage and won a few medals, so these athletes instantly became my heroes and inspired me to want to become like them, a Paralympian.
Over the years I have witnessed the incredible support that has developed for the Paralympic Games, thanks to increased public interest and coverage from the media, especially since London 2012. I want to be part of the Paralympic Games not just because it is an elite sporting event, but also because it presents a movement of social change which positivity impacts attitudes towards people with disabilities.
What has been your career highlight?
Winning a Bronze medal at the 2016 Rio Paralympics and making history by being the first Australian to win a medal in Para-canoe at Paralympic level.
What is your favourite thing to do outside of canoeing?
I am passionate about animal welfare and a proud ambassador for The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) Queensland. So, whenever I get the chance I love volunteering and helping this cause. Currently I am a cat foster carer and, in the past, I have volunteered at the RSPCA Wildlife hospital, whom help rehabilitate native animals such as koloas, kookaburras, and possums after being injured.
What keeps you motivated?
For me motivation is all about mastery. Kayaking and canoeing are challenging skills that I love learning about and perfecting. Competition is a test of how good your skills are compared to others, and previous versions of yourself. That feeling of self-improvement is a huge driving force for me, whether it be a small change to correct my stroke or achieving a personal best time at a competition.
What would your one piece of advice be to someone wanting to be a Paralympian?
I am so proud to be a Paralympian so I would encourage anyone who wants to compete to absolutely GO FOR IT! My journey to the Paralympics wasn’t straight forward, it had a lot of twists, turns, and setbacks. And when I had almost given up on my Paralympic dream, I changed sports and achieved my goal! So, my best advice is to love the process more than the destination, commit to consistent training, and measure your successes against your own personal best.
If you could change anything to improve the lives of people with a disability, what would it be?
What a great question! It is also a very difficult question to narrow down, as there is so much I would love to change in this world to make life easier for those living with a disability. So, one thing from my personal experience as a wheelchair user, is to make every building and public transport system in the world independently wheelchair accessible. I’m talking ramps, lifts, step-free access, and wheelchair accessible toilets. Having travelled around the world for my sport, I constantly run into obstacles such as stairs that make things so difficult, and which could be easily overcome by installing a ramp.
Why did you choose Cool Crutches?
My old crutches were wearing out so when I was searching online for new ones I found the Cool Crutches website. I instantly liked the huge range of patterns and colours available, plus the option to design your own personalised crutches. Honestly the hardest part was choosing just one pair from the great selection, but finally I went with my favourite colour, purple. Using my Cool Crutches, I do get a lot of comments about how quiet they are. With my old crutches my friends were used to hearing me coming, but now I can sneak up and surprise them. I use my crutches daily so they are more to me than just a walking aid, they are my freedom!