Born in the sunny state of Queensland, Susan Seipel grew up dreaming of representing Australia at the highest level, though could never have predicted her way there would be through paracanoe.
A keen para-equestrian athlete at the time, Seipel remembers the Sydney 2000 Paralympics as a defining moment in her journey.
“They had a one hour highlight of the Paralympics on the ABC and because I was already involved in equestrian I saw my friends riding there and winning medals and I just thought ‘wow, that’s amazing’,” Seipel said.
“It was so inspiring and I just wanted to be a part of that and be a Paralympian.”
Having already won an international bronze medal in her first love of para-equestrian, there was no doubt that Seipel was a competitor, however, it wasn’t until she took a break from her childhood sport in 2012 that she discovered paddling in her mid-twenties.
“I decided to take a break and during my break I was trying all different sports cause I just love being active,” said Seipel.
“I went to a come and try for Paracanoe and I suppose I got hooked. Soon after that I joined a club and paddled for fun, just learning and trying to master the skill of paddling.
Seipel’s coach saw potential in her almost immediately, encouraging her to race, a decision that paid off in dividends when she won her first World Championship medals in 2015.
“The first time I competed, I fell in love with racing,” she said.
“I won a bronze and a gold in Milan in 2015 and that was a breakthrough performance for me. I realised I was actually around the top of my classification, so that was really special.”
Having won a gold in the women’s VL2 and bronze in the women’s KL2 at the 2016 International Canoe Federation Para-canoe World Championships in Germany, Seipel was in peak form leading into the Rio 2016 Paralympics.
With the Va’a out for Rio, Seipel focused her Paralympic dream on the kayak, a choice that paid off in dividends when she became Australia’s first Paralympic medalist in Paracanoe.
Now a dual Paralympian with an added silver medal from Tokyo, Seipel is looking forward to Paris 2024 and reflects upon the importance that visibility in sport had on her early journey.
“I think back now as a more established athlete at how powerful it was to have those role models of people with disabilities and Paralympians out there in the media and on TV. Being able to look up to them and think ‘I’m just like them and I can be like them’ was so important,” said Seipel.
“It’s great to have a few more girls on the team now and I’m really hopeful we can find even more people to come and join us and have a go at paddling cause it’s such a great sport.
“I would definitely recommend more people give the sport a go. Don’t worry about how it might be when you start out, there’s always ways to do things. Just contact your local club, they usually have all the equipment available, and they should be really accommodating cause we want more people paddling.
“The one piece of advice I would give to my younger self is to not worry so much about the outcome. Things happen for a reason and they make sense later on so just go with it and enjoy it.
“So just get out there and give it a go!”