Photo courtesy of the IPC
Susie is a gold medal-winning Paralympic swimmer and had an amazing performance at the games in Rio in 2016. She talks to Sundried about being a competitive athlete and what's next on the horizon for her.
Have you always been into sport?
Yes, I have always enjoyed swimming and practising various sports since I was young. My family were always pretty active and I was always fairly competitive so I guess it was no surprise that I would go into sport in the future in a competitive way!
What prompted you to enter the world of competitive swimming?
I entered a couple of national level competitions at University and realised that I had a talent for swimming. Previously I had only raced able-bodied competitors and so I was surprised when I went to competitions and seemed to be competing well against other competitors. I didn't pick up sport until I had worked a few years though, so I had a gap and then came back to it with the aim of heading to London 2012 if I could make the team.
What’s been your best race to date?
I would say without a doubt winning my Gold in the S7 50m butterfly in Rio in 2016. There is no feeling in the world like winning a medal for your country at a Paralympic Games and hearing the national anthem. I looked at my mum and dad in the audience from where I was standing and just felt so grateful that they could share the experience with me. They knew the absolute darker moments of illness and injury that I went through and they supported me all the way, so my win was for them as well as for me!
What was going through your mind when competing at the Paralympic Games?
I was excited when I first arrived in Rio. For London, my first games, I was absolutely terrified! I felt the pressure and it scared me! For Rio, I was prepared, I was relaxed. I was observing everything and being "present". That helped me hugely to achieve what I did. When I walked out for my 50m butterfly race in Rio I just thought, "this is my stage and I am a performer and I am going to give the crowd something to enjoy!"
What has been your proudest moment?
Every time I have had the fortune to stand on the podium has been an absolute pleasure, but winning Gold in my individual race has been one of the happiest and proudest moments of my life.
How do you overcome setbacks?
Focus on the small things you can do daily to get yourself back to where you need to be. I often get lost in the bigger picture, but I try to bring myself back to where I am now. Being "present" helped me immensely in Rio - taking in my environment, helping others, talking to others... It is all a strategy to distract your mind. I practice meditation regularly. I suffer sometimes with anxiety - ever since my final year at Uni - and I now know you can bring calm immediately with yoga for the mind.
What would you say to someone with a disability who is looking to enter competitive sport for the first time?
Absolutely go for it! Try things out, make mistakes, learn from them and have a goal but keep shifting it and moving it forwards. Once you reach your goal, set another one or try something different! Competitive sport gave me so much, so I can only recommend it!
What are your goals for the next year?
Finding my new path! I have left competitive sport now and have officially retired. That chapter has closed, but there is now a whole world of opportunity out there and I am extremely excited but nervous too! I am studying again and doing lots of different things, so hopefully the next path will become clear as I move forwards onto my next goal! I also am developing a bit of a passion for open water swimming and am returning to scuba diving. I love the sea, so I am happy to move from indoor to outdoor swimming!
Who do you take your inspiration from?
My family. They are my rocks and I owe them a huge amount for all their support. I am inspired by people who achieve great things in whatever their field may be, but who do so in a humble way, without expectation.
What do you like about Sundried and what’s your favourite bit of our kit?
It is such a great idea to develop ethically sourced clothing. To recycle ingredients and to produce such high-quality items of clothing is brilliant! I am extremely environmentally conscious, the earth is such an incredible place both on land and in the sea. If I can support any organisation that is actively trying to make the planet better for future generations, I will get involved 100%. I love the features of the quick-drying properties of the fabrics - and the fact that the clothes are stylish too!
"Replace Open Water Anxiety with a Cocoon of Calm" Terry Laughlin
It is hard to practice open water swimming and most of us could do with more training. When it comes to swimming in a pack, for many of us it will be the first time this year, maybe something you do a few times a year, or perhaps your first time ever.
When it comes to the first few minutes of being in the water, breathing slowly and calmly is the most important thing you can do. Try to remember that unless you are planning on winning, there is no need to panic. You can swim, you do swim, and you have swum hundreds of times before. The chances are your buoyancy is better than ever in a wetsuit.
If you start to panic then reach for the reset button. 10 seconds, 30 seconds. A minute out just to recover will make a massive difference. Probably not to your overall time, but definitely to the way you feel. Add in a few slow breaststrokes and bring your heart-rate down.
What does it feel like to be outside the cocoon?
So many triathletes have experienced (many times more than once) the uncomfortable feeling of being in the water questioning if they can swim. Your breathing feels all wrong. Other swimmers are too close. Everything can go wrong. Even experienced athletes will have a bad swim now and then.
In a triathlon, if you are going to be weak at one of the events but still do well overall, then the swim is the most likely to be the weak event. But being a weak swimmer and being a swimmer outside their cocoon (or in distress) are different things. You can have a really enjoyable swim if you manage to settle down appropriately. If you have trained with a wetronome then it doesn't hurt to use it in the event, but you have to actually listen to what it is telling you. The urge to swim faster on race day than your normal training pace is completely normal, but being out of breath is not the best thing when your face is plunged into the open water for the first time that year.
Things To Avoid In An Open Water Swim
- Swimming at a much faster pace than you can maintain
- Kicking twice as hard as you have planned
- Changing your swim cadence from 60 strokes per minute to 120
- Putting yourself right in the centre of the pack thinking it may save a bit of time
Counter all of these points, calm things down, and try and stick with the race plan. The best thing you can do in your first open water swim is to swim the same way you have been in training and try to stay as relaxed as possible. It may not be your best time ever, but it is better to leave that for another day when you're feeling more confident or you are more experienced.
Want to swim faster, develop a stronger core and look really cool then you need to be able to rock a handstand! OK. Maybe you just want to do a handstand. Whatever the motivation here is my personal challenge (still ongoing)
So bodyweight training is cool. Gymnastics are for pros and yoga is for people with flexibility you only dream of. Oh and handstands are for 10 year olds with no fear and an amazing ability to conquer gravity. Do you feel like the above is true?
It’s not (apparently)… I am not a believer in get rich quick schemes. And that goes for getting strong, getting fast, getting flexible, getting ripped. The list goes on. Living my life by the ‘if it sounds too good to be true it probably is’ has avoided many scams and provided me with much needed reality. But I have a few goals I want to achieve by working on this little personal challenge. One is to develop core strength. One is to develop shoulder strength and aim for some handstand push-ups. But one is to see if it is possible to actually get up into a handstand having never attempted (so no muscle memory whatsoever).
Get Rich Quick…. Here we come. From zero to hero in 2 months (or shorter). Can it be done? I am going from a pretty solid starting point. Can squeeze out 40+ pushups and not much body fat. From reading a few websites and how to guides I am going for what sounds to be the safer approach for a novice with the fear of face planting. Starting with a wall plan and adding a bit of gradient every day.
(Beginning of July)
Day one… 4 sets of 1 minute plan with the palms of my hands between 90cm and 1m away from the wall. Set 4, body is shaking. Arms are shaking. Core is certainly screaming out but pretty happy with this (it was after press ups as well). I was expecting to feel a lot more light headed but it felt fine. Getting into position was pretty easy, walking up the wall and I didn’t feel off balance.
Day two… (don’t worry, I wont bore you with the detail every day) the same as above but taking it 5-10 cm closer to the wall with the hands. Is anyone impressed yet? My 4 year old daughter is, but then she pulls out a wall plank that puts mine to shame.
I’m going to keep this up! Surely I am.
Day 4. Palms are 70cm away from the wall. 1 foot closer than a few days ago. The sets of 5 for 1 minute each I am resting for 4 mins between. Will try and drop that down soonish but too tough right now. Last 2 sets were very tough. Shaky arms just screaming out for the minute to end. Oh, and the dismount (I’m guessing that’s what coming down off the wall is officially called) needs some work. A kind of splat at the base of the wall doesn’t feel very elegant. Got to bore my sister in law last night with my desire to achieve a handstand. Anyone else not interested?
Week 2 - Fresh after the weekend (yes I had Sunday off from the training for this) so got my palms to 60cm from the wall. Woah, feels a bit steep! But OK. Mixing this up with some press-ups and a few sit-ups, the minute timer on my phone could not come sooner by the third set.
A couple of days into week two and my palms are now just 50cm away from the wall. It seems a little easier to hold the minute today and my feet feel light against the wall. Feels to me like the beginning of a handstand!
After a few week gap for holiday it is back to the challenge.
After about 1 month my palms are more or less 30cm away from the wall. Mind over matter “I won’t fall over. I won’t fall over”. It is certainly a workout on the wrists from the lack of flexibility.Now in the second month (end of week 1) I have now dropped my rest intervals down to 3 minutes between each minute of handstandplanking against the wall. Repeating for 5 sets. Not sure when that slipped in but it has! (I am sure I started at 4). I am also only doing this week days. So I am feeling stronger and now I think ready to take the leap of faith into the second stage whatever that may be.
Jim Doughty entered the sporting world at a relatively late age but this hasn't stopped him from achieving some incredible feats. From sprint triathlons to Iron Man events, he has excelled at the sport and tells us a little more about his passion.
Have you always been into sport?I made it back into sport when I was 40 years old, but have always been very active: between the ages of 18 and 22 I cycled for a team in the north-west of England but work and family life took over and I stopped participating in professional races.
What made you decide to enter a triathlon?I was participating in a charity cycle event with work in December 2010 and a work colleague was impressed with my speed and endurance and challenged me to enter a sprint distance triathlon. I took up the challenge, and four months later I was racing my first Triathlon in over 20 years. From then on I was hooked.
What’s been your best race to date?It was probably “A Day In The Lakes” Middle Distance Triathlon in 2016. The race takes place towards the end of June in the Lake District; the swim is 1.9km in Ullswater and the conditions were near perfect, I had a good solid swim and headed into T1 and onto the bike, the bike course is a fast 2 lap loop crisscrossing the M6 motorway on both laps. I made it back into T2 with a really fast split, so fast in fact that my family were really surprised to see me so soon. I headed out of T2 onto a fairly unique Half Marathon run course which took in two mountains to ascend and descend. I crossed the finish line with a massive smile on my face to my waiting family.
And your proudest achievement?It has to be Ironman UK which was in 2015. I and one of my training partners spent the best part of a year training specifically for the event, out in all weathers throughout the Scottish winter and spring cycling and running and training in the pool until the weather warmed up enough for us to hit open water.
Ironman UK starts with a 3.8km swim in Pennington Flash reservoir, then onto a 180km bike which winds through Greater Manchester & Lancashire for two laps ending inside the Macron Stadium just outside Bolton. From here I ran the full marathon which was a three lap run into Bolton City Centre.
I finished the Ironman 1 hour and 35 seconds faster than my training partner.
Have you ever had any racing disasters / your toughest race yet?
Yes, I’ve had a few disasters, I raced at a Sprint Distance Duathlon a few years ago and punctured out on the course. As it was only a sprint distance, by the time I had replaced the tube and made it back to T2 I was last on the final run.
As for my toughest race yet, all of the races I have done are my toughest yet, every race I do I get stronger and wiser and am constantly learning to race faster and smarter.
However I think this coming year (2018) I will face my toughest challenges in the form of an Ironman including a sea swim as this is my worst fear.
How do you overcome setbacks?
I never give up, no matter what I am faced with; I overcome every hurdle I come across as they only make you stronger. I am constantly learning and I use every setback as a learning curve. If I make a mistake I try never to make the same mistake again.
What is the best piece of advice you wish someone had told you before you started competing?Train with the same equipment and nutrition that you intend to race with, for me this is the most important piece of advice that can be given to everyone competing as you will know how your equipment is going to feel and react to you.
What are your goals for 2017?I have a couple of major goals for the coming year, the first one is at the end of May and is the Edinburgh Marathon, I have never run a marathon as a standalone event; I’ve run ultra marathons and I’ve run the marathon distance as part of the Ironman so am intrigued to see how I perform over the distance.
My second goal for 2017 is The Long Course Weekend in Wales. This is an Iron Distance Triathlon but over 3 days; you complete the 3.9km swim on the Friday evening, the 180km bike on the Saturday and the marathon run on the Sunday. This event is as much about the recovery between the events as it is about the distances to be covered.
Who do you take your inspiration from?I am inspired to perform by so many different people from some of the best cyclists in the world such as Chris Froome, Bernard Hinault and Greg Lemond, to some amazing triathletes such as Scott Tinley and Mirinda Carfrae. All of whom are truly inspirational and owners of their own destination, in every race they have ever participated in they all have one common goal…..They all want to WIN.
What do you like about Sundried and what’s your favourite bit of our kit?I love the fact that Sundried care; they care about the environment, they care about the people who wear the brand, and they care about being an ethical choice. I love the fact that they turn coffee grounds into fabric, I always knew that caffeine could improve my performance but pair that with Sundried's branding and you have the best Men’s Pro Tri Suit money can buy. From the comfort afforded by the Dolomiti pad right through to the hydrophobic coating to help in the drying process when you exit the swim, for me this is the must-have piece of kit for every event.
Total Immersion swimming is a style of training developed by Terry Laughlin, a swimming coach from the US. This swimming style aims to teach swimmers to move through the water more efficiently.
If you are planning on completing a triathlon, or just to improve your pool swimming for exercise, then it is worth having video analysis done.
With swimming, it is almost impossible to know exactly what your body is doing in the water. While I am swimming, when I look under the water all looks fine, but listening to the feedback from all around I know much improvement is needed.
There are so many things that can go wrong with a swim. Small tweaks and changes to your swim form, especially when you start training, will really make a big difference. The more efficiently your swimming, the faster you will be and the more energy you will conserve.
So why do we need better technique?
Prevent injury - Shoulder injuries are common for the older generation of swimmers that may rotate their shoulders in the water. Neck strains and all sorts of weird and wonderful aches may start to fester.
Swim more efficiently - The efficiency in water makes such a difference. Someone with good technique has so much more speed.
Don’t look like such an amateur - Big splashing in the pool is just not cool!
How does Total Immersion swimming work?
Terry Laughlin's theory is that humans are not natural swimmers as we instinctively try to fight the water. He says that one of the biggest mistakes most swimmers make is trying to overpower the water while swimming, instead of gliding easily through it. Since water is over 800 times denser than air, moving through water creates a lot of resistance and drag which is not good for racing.
Swimming can be the difference between life and death so being a strong swimmer is an important life skill. Diving in with raw power can be counterproductive so it is vital that your swimming is efficient and does not waste energy.Total Immersion swimming aims to teach people how to propel themselves through the water in a streamlined fashion rather than kicking the legs and flailing the arms. It is a logic based on facts and has helped many people enter the world of competitive triathlon.