HomeSportHospital Saturday, training Sunday, world champion Monday

Hospital Saturday, training Sunday, world champion Monday


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Suzanna Hext took up swimming in 2017 after being inspired by the London ParalympicsA five-day stint on a high-dependency hospital ward is far from the kind of preparation any athlete wants right before a major championship.Yet for Suzanna Hext that was the reality as she spent the weeks before the recent Para Swimming World Championships with a respiratory illness related to her asthma that ended with her being hospitalised.Given the all-clear to return home only 36 hours before her first event in Manchester – the S5 50m freestyle – she promptly won the race to secure her first world title.Later that week she also claimed a silver medal in the 100m freestyle.”I got out of hospital at lunchtime on Saturday, had one training day on the Sunday, raced on the Monday and somehow became world champion,” Hext told BBC Sport.”It still doesn’t feel like it’s sunk in completely.”Hext had been enjoying some of her best performances in training and competitions this year, but the 34-year-old tempered her expectation for the Worlds after the stint in hospital despite intending to give the races “everything I have got”.Even then, when she touched the wall at the end of the 50m race she initially had no idea she had won gold.”I couldn’t see the board in front of me so I didn’t know where I’d come and I thought I’d come fifth because all I could see was lane five,” Hext said.”I was lane five, I didn’t really think about that at the time and I turned around and saw them zooming in on me and it said ‘Suzanna Hext world champion’ and I felt this flood of emotion.”With everything I’ve been through, you hope it’s possible with all the training you’ve done, that you’ve put in all the work. But with it actually happening, this flood of emotion came and I was smiling, crying, I didn’t know what to do. It just felt completely amazing.”‘Goosebumps when I heard crowd for first time’Hext describes last year as the “hardest” she has experienced, with repeated illness and multiple operations including a “life-changing” ear surgery that allowed her to hear again after being born with a hearing impairment that was deteriorating over time.She had not raced much as part of the Great Britain team since the Tokyo Paralympics, where she withdrew from competition early due to illness, and missed the World Championships last year after contracting sepsis.”In many ways I had lost belief in myself, but more in my body that it was going to play ball,” she said. “I’m just lucky that I’ve had endless amounts of love and support around me to keep me going because I think without that I couldn’t have done it on my own.”I feel like these results are giving back to people who have given me so much support – family, friends, my partner, my coach, my medical team, British Swimming. I’ve got so many people supporting me medically to get to this point. Without them, none of this would be possible.”Suzanna Hext was able to hear the crowd in the arena for the first time in competitionHext, who is from Cornwall but now lives in Calne, Wiltshire, was 23 and a promising young horse rider when a “freak accident” while riding in 2012 left her paralysed from the waist down.She still rides and competes at home – winning three para-dressage gold medals at the 2017 European Championships – and took up swimming in 2017.This year’s World Championships marked a major milestone as Hext could hear the noise from the crowd for the first time. She had a cochlear implantexternal-link fitted last year and rule changes by World Para-Swimming now mean athletes can compete with them in.”I heard the crowd as I heard my name got called out and this smile comes up and it gives you that extra boost because you’ve got the home crowd behind you,” Hext said.”It really gave me goosebumps. It was the most amazing feeling being able to hear that. My cochlear implant surgeon came and watched on the Sunday which was really special as he’s been a massive part of the last few years.”‘Pinching myself’Immediately after the Worlds, Hext was back in hospital with a fever and infection to her cochlear implant, which had been getting worse as the championships went on.She spent the following week recovering before a trip to see her parents in Cornwall for a celebration.After the disappointment of missing out on a medal at the Paralympics two years ago, to becoming a world champion last month, Hext’s attention is firmly on the next 12 months and the upcoming Games in Paris.”It’s made me even more hungry in many ways. I’m just really excited,” Hext added.”In Tokyo we couldn’t have family and friends there watching so it will be really nice to have them a part of it. They’re a massive part of my journey and where I’ve got to.”I’m just really excited to get back in the water and see what I can do over the next year. It’s just amazing and I’m slightly pinching myself at the moment.”

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