My Story

I was born with Arthrogryposis Multiplex, a rare disorder characterised by fusion of joints and absent muscle formation in my legs. I had my first operation at 4 weeks old, and was admitted to the children’s hospital thirteen times before my 15th birthday.

At the age of four I was taught to swim as physiotherapy and developed a fondness for the sport. I represented my school and raced alongside my able-bodied classmates. I was classified as a para-swimmer and between 1999 and 2001 I held six Queensland State Games Records and three Australian National Age Records in freestyle and backstroke.

When I was seven years old, I started having horse riding lessons for physiotherapy at The McIntyre Pony Riding for the Disabled Centre. There I fell in love with the horses and discovered a passion for the equestrian sport of dressage.

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Susan competing on Menora Wildfire.

I represented my state for the first time at the Riding for the Disabled National Dressage Championships in 1998 and placed 1st in my warm-up test against international riders. Since then I competed thirteen times for consecutive years at national level, and have been the Australian National Champion three times riding different horses;”Bobby” in 1999, “Menora Wildfire” in 2006, and “Mellizo” in 2008.

In 2006 I made my international debut representing Australia at the Pacific Rim Para-Equestrian Dressage International Competition, held at Milner Downs Equestrian Centre in Langley, Canada. I rode a borrowed horse named “Conclusive Talent,” and with only a few days practice together we won a bronze medal.

My horse “Larundel Gelata” and I were selected to compete at the 2010 World Equestrian Games, in Kentucky, USA. I was devastated that due to financial difficulties I was unable to compete at the event. Shortly afterwards I decided to take a break from equestrian competition.

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Susan riding Larundel Gelata.

I got involved in the sport of Para-Canoe in 2012, after attending a come and try kayaking day with Olympian, Amanda Rankin. I joined the Brisbane Canoeing Club to learn more about paddling and started regular training. In 2014 I experienced my first regatta at the Queensland State Canoe Sprint Championships, which reignited my competitive spirit.

I went on to compete at the 2014 Australian Canoe Sprint Championships and won three of my K1 (single kayak) races with Personal Best times and placed 2nd in all three V1 (single outrigger canoe) races. I was selected onto the 2014 Australian Para-Canoe Sprint Team for the K1 boat and moved to the AIS European Training Centre in Italy to train ahead of the World Championships.


Susan racing in her kayak at the National Championships. Photo credit: James Pitman.

At the 2014 ICF Canoe Sprint World Championships in Moscow, Russia, I won my heat and went directly into the final were I came 6th in the world with a Personal Best time. A week later I competed at the IVF 2014 Outrigger Canoe World Championships in Rio De Janerio, Brazil. There I won a silver medal in my individual V1 race and with the Australian Team won two gold medals in the OC6 (six person outrigger canoe) team events. As a team we also smashed the previous held records for World Best time in both races.

In 2015 I won both V1 and K1 National Titles and was selected onto the Australian Para-Canoe Team for both boats. At the 2015 ICF Canoe Sprint World Championships in Milan, Italy, I progressed straight into the K1 final after placing 2nd in my heat. In the final I won a Bronze medal and qualified the first quota place for Australia at the 2016 Rio Paralympic Games. In the V1 final I won a Gold medal and my maiden World Title with a Personal Best and World Best time.

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Susan wins her maiden World Title. Photo credit: Balint Vekassy.

At the 2016 ICF Canoe Sprint World Championships in Dusberg, Germany, I added another Bronze medal for K1 to my medal haul and successfully defended my world champion title for V1. I won my 3rd consecutive Gold medal for V1 at the 2017 ICF Canoe Sprint World Championships in Racice, Czech Republic, and placed 4th in K1.

At the 2018 ICF Canoe Sprint World Championships in Montemor-o-Velho, Portugal, I placed 6th in the K1 and 4th in V1. That same year I competed at my first Paracanoe World Cup in Szeged, Hungary, where I won a Bronze medal in V1 and placed 4th in Kayak.

In 2019 the World Cup was held in Poznan, Poland, there I won a Silver medal in V1 and came =4th in K1. At the 2019 ICF Canoe Sprint World Championships in Szeged, Hungary I won a Silver medal in V1 and a Bronze medal in K1 (both in personal best times) and also qualified two Australian quota spots for the 2020 Tokyo Paralympics Games.

In March 2020 I took part in the 22km Sydney Harbour Challenge in an OC6, which included five athletes with disabilities. In the Open Mixed category we placed 3rd against 14 boats with able-bodied crews. Unfortunately the 2020 ICF World Championships were cancelled due to the Coronavirus pandemic.

I proudly represented Australia at the 2016 Rio Paralympic Games in Rio De Janerio, Brazil. I won a Bronze medal in my event the 200m K1 sprint, and was the first Australian in history to win a medal in Para-canoe at the Paralympic Games.

“I hope by sharing my story I can inspire others
to overcome adversity and follow their dreams.”

Susan wins Bronze at the Rio Paralympics. Photo credit: Balint Vekassy.