October 21, 2021

Meet our newest friend – Paralympic Gold Medallist Susie Rodgers MBE

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Susie Rodgers has competed in two Paralympic Games at London 2012 and Rio 2016 – winning five bronze medals and one gold. She also advises and speaks globally on disability, empowerment and inclusion and was awarded an MBE for services to sport. A pretty perfect match for our little charity eh? Here she is to tell you more about herself and what she hopes to bring to team Legs…

Who are ya?

Hi! I am Susie Rodgers. I competed for nearly a decade in Paralympic swimming, representing Great Britain and ParalympicsGB at two Paralympic Games, two World Championships and three European Championships throughout my career. I won 30 international medals, including 17 gold and won three bronze medals at the London 2012 Paralympic Games and a gold and two bronze medals at the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games. I hung up my goggles professionally in 2017 after I finished my career on a huge high, winning gold in the 50m butterfly, and being awarded an MBE for services to swimming by the Queen. To say I was shocked to win gold and become Paralympic champion is an understatement!

Susie winning a gold medal at Rio 2016. Credit: ParalympicsGB Flickr account, Rio Day 5

I have worked for many years on international education and mobility programmes around the world and I have been a consultant and adviser to numerous organisations on disability inclusion for a long time. Currently I work at the UK’s Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office on disability inclusion in global health. I advise organisations in the public and private sector on inclusion and really enjoy problem solving, creative thinking and designing or redesigning strategies and policies to be more inclusive. Outside of my portfolio of advisory work, I am passionate about ocean conservation and still enjoy open water swimming (though at a more leisurely pace!). I am an Ocean Ambassador for the Marine Conservation Society in the UK and have supported them in various ways, including auctioning pieces of my own art on marine life to raise funds for their work. I am a trustee of a legacy charity from the London 2012 Paralympic and Olympic Games, called Spirit of 2012, which invests in UK based participation projects in wellbeing, social cohesion, volunteering, arts and culture and physical activity. So, I am mostly quite busy!

How did you first hear about Legs4Africa?

From my friend and former para-swimmer Rosie! Rosie and I connected over our shared love of oceans and go pros and I saw she was supporting Legs4Africa. I decided to follow the charity to check out your incredible work and given my current role and interest in rehabilitation, assistive technology and international development work, it felt like a good fit!

Why were you attracted to the cause?

I am a congenital through-knee and below-elbow amputee on the left side. I have only ever known a life where I have needed and used prosthetic limbs – both an arm and a leg.

I know first-hand the importance of prosthetics for independence, to live a life of your choice and to navigate a world that is not designed for people with disabilities. I work in global health currently and advise on disability inclusion. I understand the challenges and barriers people face in many different countries to receive the prosthetics they need within their own country’s health systems.

Part of my work focuses on influencing how rehabilitation and assistive technology provision can and should be embedded into health systems strengthening work globally. I live in a so-called high-income country where I can access free prosthetics through the NHS but even then, budgets permitting, choice can be restricted. However, many people in low- and middle-income countries cannot even access health facilities let alone get the health care, advice and the devices that they need to lead an independent life of their own choice. I think it is a great idea to reuse old prosthetics to give to countries where products may be in short supply or non-existent. We are hopefully moving more towards a circular economy as well, where products are reused and brought back into the creation of new products in a continual cycle and the disability sector needs to get involved in this too, like any other sector. We want to avoid waste because it isn’t good for the environment.

Recycling old limbs to create new ones that are of equal quality for users in other countries is hugely important. The health systems may not be there yet in terms of provision, so charity support is sometimes needed, and that is where organisations like Legs4Africa step in to fill in gaps in these offers and services. Hopefully though, in the future we can work towards integrating device provision into the health system itself, with early identification, so that countries can support their own populations to live independent lives. Ultimately, we want limb users to be able to learn, train, work and to contribute to their country’s GDP. We have a way to go in so many places though!

What are you most excited to achieve with L4A?

Raising awareness about the importance of assistive technology and devices, as well as rehabilitation, to change lives and how essential it is for governments around the world to take this area of work seriously. I want to emphasise that getting a product is one thing, but the product or device needs to be of a good enough quality that the individual can genuinely use it regularly.

I am known as a “good” limb user, because I put my leg on when I get out of bed and I don’t take it off until I go to bed. I use it for everything and in many ways, I use my arm a lot too, even though it is a static arm (with no movement/not bionic). The only time I don’t use my leg is when I have a sore, but even then, I tend to just wince through the pain and keep going. I love the freedom my limbs give me! I only get frustrated when something breaks in my artificial knee joint or, say, I must get a new socket made. It is a lot of time spent in hospitals when you just want to be out there living your life! So, raising awareness is one part, but also learning more about the experiences of amputees and prosthetic limb users in other countries, with very different backgrounds to my own.

Hopefully I can support in some way, but I am sure I can learn a lot from them too. I also hope to encourage others to donate old limbs if they can, supporting people to lead independent lives in other countries and contributing to a reuse and recycle model rather than a wasteful one. 

Tell us a fun fact about you

I played the trumpet to grade 8 and used to be in a jazz band at school. It was lots of fun! I can’t improvise, but I wish I could..

I also paint in my spare time and I speak a few languages too, though to varying levels now! I love speaking different languages to learn about other cultures and diverse perspectives. So, international work suits me down to the ground. I like to be curious about others and to try to see their point of view. It makes life interesting. 

We are so delighted to be working with Susie and look forward to learning from her, and achieving big things alongside her.