From watching London 2012 from her hospital bed to swimming for ParalympicsGB at Tokyo 2020

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From watching London 2012 from her hospital bed to swimming for ParalympicsGB at Tokyo 2020

"I was in hospital when the London 2012 Paralympics were on and that was what gave me the feeling that anything was possible, regardless of what I'd been through."

Suzanna Hext had been through a lot. She was 23 years old and coming to terms with being paralysed from the waist down as she watched the Paralympics from her hospital bed.

A promising young horse rider, her life changed when her horse fell and crushed her. She damaged her spine, shattered her pelvis, crushed her shoulder and had a head injury that left her world in pieces.

But nine years on she will be the one on the television as she heads to Tokyo to swim in the S5 category at the delayed 2020 Paralympics.

"I lost my sense of identity when I was in hospital, which has always been sport, riding, anything physical," she told USAGovNews Radio Cornwall.

"Now going to a Paralympics myself, it kind of just feels completely crazy because it was a dream, and I just think it shows that you can have a dream and if you work hard for it and you've got the support around you, you can achieve it."

To swim or to ride?

Suzanna Hext
Hext has won titles in Para-dressage as well as Para-swimming

Hext, now 32, had her choice of sports for Tokyo. As well as winning silver in the 50m freestyle and bronze in the 100m freestyle at the 2019 World Championships, she also got back in the saddle after her accident and won three Para-dressage gold medals at the 2017 European Championships.

"I'm a perfectionist and probably to do two sports at a Paralympics was going to be pushing it," said Hext when asked if she considered doubling up.

"It was the aim, but it's a 10-day programme for swimming and it very much overlaps with the Para-dressage, but I will be watching everyone.

"I'm very much looking forward to supporting them on their journey as well, but I'm loving the journey I'm having in the pool, which is definitely very different to riding, I don't think you could have had two more different sports really."

'It hasn't been an easy journey'

Suzanna Hext
Hext only turned her full attention to swimming in 2017

Hext, who grew up in Truro, holds the British record in the S5 50m and 100m freestyle, as well as the SB4 100m backstroke and will swim all three events in Tokyo, plus the S5 50m backstroke and possibly some relays.

But with Covid-19 hampering preparations, Hext, who swims for Swindon ASC and trains with the British elite squad at the Manchester Aquatics Centre, had to be creative with her training sessions.

As well as swimming around the coast of Cornwall during the first lockdown in March 2020, she was also able to use legendary jockey AP McCoy's pool at his home last summer.

"I used his 12m pool in his back yard and was swimming up and down there," Hext said of the help the 20-time champion jockey gave her.

"We had Zoom sessions, we had a camera set up for the coach to watch - it's how people have had to adapt throughout lockdown."

Hext is philosophical about the journey her life has taken, which has allowed her to represent ParalympicsGB on a global stage:

"I think just to be going to a Paralympic Games is an experience of a lifetime for everyone, but having gone through everything I've gone through, it just makes it that bit more special and appreciate life that bit more.

"It hasn't been an easy journey, and there are times when I would love my old body back - there's no getting away from that - but, equally, I think I wanted to get me back as a person - I'd lost me.

"To get me back, smiley, happy, zest-for-life Suze, and to be going out and doing everything I can do, having gone through what I've gone through, you can't get much better than that."

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