Susie Rodgers MBE has a strong belief that no one and nothing should be left behind in life. Through her impressive career as a decorated Paralympic athlete, and now as an advocate for the environment, she’s fought for what she believes in: inclusion, diversity and conservation. We chatted with Susie about all the things that are close to her heart, and her plans for 2020.
I actually approached them. I was looking at what global work and global efforts I was interested in, and one of them is divisibility and inclusion. The other, because I’m a swimmer, is ocean conservation. When I was a kid, I thought about being a marine biologist, but I ended up studying languages instead. I went along to this organised, ocean initiative group and it was there that I met a few people and got inspired to come back to the UK and look at what organisations I could connect with here. I contacted the Marine Conservation Society and they got in touch and asked me to be an Ocean Ambassador.
When I was at university, I was kind of having a tough time with my mental health. I used to regularly go to the coast, and it’s just so beautiful up there. It’s cold and you wouldn’t swim in the water, but that connection with the sea was something that really helped me. And then I went on a surprise trip the Maldives with my family for my 21st birthday, and I thought it was absolutely beautiful. Any holiday I go on is based around water because it is something that means so much to me.
The Mayor’s office asked me to be part of it because they wanted a Paralympic swimmer. All of my training when I was an athlete was in London, so I am connected to the city. Equality is important for women but it’s even harder when you are a woman with a disability because we are very much discriminated against on two levels. I think that element is why it’s so important to have a voice and to champion that.
We are lucky in the UK because there are schemes and ways we can access services, but I’m fairly mobile as a disabled person whereas there are people in wheelchairs that I know get stuck on trains and don’t get any help. So good infrastructure and transport systems are really important. And then attitudes as well. Collaboration between non-disabled and disabled people is key. That understanding and awareness only comes with engaging with people with disabilities. The most effective way is full inclusion from the start.
Winning gold at the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. That was amazing and it’s such a wonderful atmosphere. Another highlight was the London Games for me because even though I didn’t win gold, I won three bronze medals, but it was just electric. The home crowd, my family and friends were there. I would say those two Games were equally special to me for different reasons.
I still swim a couple times a week for health benefits. I have a different relationship with sport now. When I was an athlete, I had my goals and I had processes to get there, so everything was geared towards that. But now, it’s a much more holistic approach to exercise and the benefits to my body. It’s about how important it is to move the body and keep moving it as you go through different stages in your life. So I see it very differently, but I would always have swimming in my life because it’s very special and I do a lot more open water swimming now. I go swimming in seas, in rivers or in lakes in the UK and abroad so yes, it’s still very much a big part of my life, but in a different way.
I love the inclusion work around disability. That really interests me and I will be doing more work of that kind in international development spaces next year. I love the opportunity to meet people. I’m very much a people-oriented person, and I’ve always been interested in different cultures, so for me, learning about other people and their cultures and their different backgrounds, that’s what really motivates me and I find it fascinating.
I’ve been very inspired by the young people and their voices. I also wear a sustainable costume when I swim by Zoggs, which is made from discarded fishing nets. I also have my reusable cup and reusable bags, and I do whatever I can. I’ve started to massively reduce my meat intake. As an athlete, I used to eat a lot of meat, for protein. I’ve gone away from that now. If I look back at my athletic career, I kind of wish I had looked more at the nutrition side to see how I could have been more sustainable. It’s about undoing habits and patterns that you’ve built up. There is a lot more I can do and I’m certainly not perfect but I am aware of it and thinking about it more.
It would be great to get more awareness in education systems around the conservation and protection of the environment. When I was in school, we learned about geography and volcanoes and earthquakes, but we never actually learned about the Earth and the importance of protecting it. I think the education of young people in schools and getting it into the curriculum would be really good. More awareness is important, too. I know the fashion industry is moving in that direction, but it is still massively consumer driven. We need an understanding from the top down in all levels of society and all parts of business. It starts by educating and it starts with awareness. Then you can build from that.
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