Louise Sugden will be heading to Australia to compete in the Gold Coast Commonwealth games, due to commence on the 4th April. Louise will be competing for Team England in Para Powerlifting, having previously competed at two Paralympics, two World Championships, and six European Championships as a key member of the GB Wheelchair Basketball side.
Louise, who is also a qualified chartered accountant, has made rapid progress since the switch to Powerlifting, and will be aiming for a medal at the Tokyo Paralympics in 2020. She has just received a further boost, receiving sponsorship from charity Path to Success as she looks to take her training up a level.
Able Magazine speaks to Louise about her journey to date, her hopes for the future, and her current thoughts on the state of disability sport in the UK.
Tell us a bit about your journey to date, what have been some of your biggest achievements so far?
“At school, being disabled meant I rarely got to participate in sports. My journey to becoming a Paralympic basketball player started when I was 13 and joined a club with a friend, after trying basketball at the National Junior Games. I started playing because it’s what my friends were doing and it was a nice way to socialise, but I ended up being very competitive. I started playing for a club in 1999, and in 2003, I played for GB for the first time.
I’ve competed at Powerlifting, having previously competed at two Paralympics, two World Championships and six European Championships. At my first game for GB, I remember the coach calling a time out and putting me on, telling me to go behind a screen and take a shot. I did. And it went in.
We qualified for Athens at that Europeans but I wasn’t selected and that was a turning point for me as I’d had a taste of that life and I liked it. I realised that I needed to do more. I put in a lot more work after this and from 2005-2014 I never missed a major tournament again. I was studying at the same time and became a chartered accountant in 2014, although my studies often came second to my training commitments.
2008 was my first Paralympic games. It was my first time in China and we came 8th, which isn’t too bad for a developing team.
I never get bored of talking about London. It was the most incredible experience to be at a home Paralympic games, the atmosphere and crowd were amazing. Whenever we got the ball they would cheer. It was packed and we had 9,000+ people watching games! As in Beijing, we got to the quarter-finals and were level at half time but we lost by 11, to eventual Gold medallists, Germany. It was progress from Beijing.
In 2014 I did a trip over to Brazil and contracted an illness. I took 2015 off to recover but wasn’t able to get fit enough to be selected for Rio. I felt like I wasn’t done with sport and I needed a new challenge. I’ve always been strong and so I thought I would give power lifting a try. I went for a trial day and they said my base levels were really good. My bench-press went from 77 to 96 in a few months, so I realised I might be onto something. I’m still training and have the Europeans coming up in May where I look to put in a good performance and hopefully get on the world class program.”
What are your hopes for the future?
“A medal is the dream for Tokyo, I would be disappointed if I wasn’t anywhere near the medals. There is no reason I can’t unless my body suddenly gives up. I’ve already been to Japan but it is still so exciting, it’s over 20 years since I’ve been to Tokyo, so I can’t wait to see how much it’s changed. It is a cool place.
Ahead of Tokyo I don’t think I appreciated how much I relied on the team when I played wheelchair basketball. I loved how social basketball was. In powerlifting, we’re still a team but in competition the responsibility falls only on me. It has taken some getting used to. I’m working out what works best for me which requires a change in mind-set.
I would love a medal in Europe in the next two championships and of course, I have high hopes for the Gold Coast Commonwealth games. There are six of us on the team, the biggest powerlifting team that England have ever sent to commonwealth games. So it’s a sport on the rise.
The Path to Success sponsorship is a really great boost and I enjoy working with them. I feel like they really invest in me and they’re not just throwing some money at me.”
What are your current thoughts on the state of disability sport?
“Disability sport has changed a huge amount and I would put that mainly down to London 2012. More people are aware of Paralympic sport than ever before and there’s more hype about it.
More people want to participate but there still aren’t enough women. We started off with five women at my Wheelchair Basketball club and now have two women’s teams which is great, but I’d still love for there to be more.
I hope that the BBC and Channel 4 continue to get behind the television side of things because that is enormous and what channel 4 has done is bring the Paralympics to people. The last leg is a regular series and that is great, people love it and it gives people the opportunity to find out things that they might be scared to ask.
I still have a great love for Wheelchair Basketball. The beauty of the sport is that it allows so many people to play together. As long as you can catch a ball and push a chair you can play.”