A European triple gold medal-winning para dressage rider has said it feels “out of this world” to be selected to represent her country in a second sport.
H&H blogger Suzanna Hext, a former two-star eventer who suffered a life-changing riding accident in 2012 and went on to win two individual and team gold at the para dressage European Championships in 2017, has been selected to represent Great Britain at the para swimming World Championships in London in September.
Suz, who competed in the selection trials at the British para-swimming international meet at Tollcross ISC in Glasgow last week, told H&H the news of team selection had not sunk in yet.
“I’m not sure I had the World Championships on my agenda necessarily but I gave it everything and really enjoyed the whole experience. I really loved a crowd getting behind me and there was a really good atmosphere, it gave me that boost to give a little bit more,” said Suz.
“It was an up and down week in Glasgow but it was a learning curve. I spasmed on the starting block on the first day and they disqualified me because it is deemed you’re starting the race, even though I didn’t realise I spasmed. The spasms are due to the nature of my spinal cord injury and dystonia. It was just one of those things – unfortunately it’s not something that I can control, but we’ve found a way to make it less likely to happen on my racing starts from now on and I was fine the rest of the week.”
Suz broke the British 200m longcourse freestyle record at the meet, bringing her British para swimming record tally to four; the 50m long course and short course freestyle, and the 100m shortcourse freestyle.
“It’s insane – since only starting para swimming in January. I’m taking it one step at a time and enjoying the journey as I go along,” said Suz.
“The World Championships in September will be amazing, I’ve been given a massive opportunity to be on the team – it’s an honour. I’ll be doing the 50m, 100m and 200m freestlye – it will be great to be in front of a home crowd.”
Suz, who is part of the lottery-funded equestrian World Class programme, said while she had not expected swimming to “take off” like it had, it enhances her performance in the saddle and she is still aiming for the 2019 European Championships and the Paralympics in Tokyo 2020 in para dressage.
“Para dressage and swimming are working well together – I haven’t had any pressure from either side,” she said.
“Riding remains my priority – nothing has changed from that point of view, but I’m going to see where I can take swimming as well. The World Class equestrian programme is really focusing on atheletes’ health and fitness so it really helps.”
Suz said she feels lucky to have the support network of Talland Equestrian and swimming club Swindon Dolphin ASC, and feels like she has “got her life back” since her accident in 2012.
“I have a really good home team with the horses at Talland with Pammy Hutton, having that makes a huge difference if I’m away swimming. Equally if I’ve been away competing in dressage in Denmark and France, I’ve continued my training out there in the pool,” she said.
‘It’s something I’m really passionate about and it’s helped me in the saddle’
Suz has gone through a pretty rough couple of weeks but is raring to get going again
“Sport is a massive part of my life again. It almost feels like I’m back to where I used to be, mentally I feel really good. It was difficult not having that side of my life but to have that back I feel like me again – it’s incredible.”
Suz is taking part in the para dressage European selection trials at Wellington in June and Hartpury in July, and is searching for another horse to campaign alongside her horse Sid (LJT Enggaards Solitaire), for Tokyo.
“Horses are horses – you can never be too sure so we need a backup for Sid to bring alongside but trying to find a para horse is like a needle in a haystack,” she said.
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