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Getting to know...Laura Sugar

Laura Sugar 002

By Jonathan Smith

When the 2016 Paralympic games in Rio drew to a close, the only canoeing experience Laura Sugar had was paddling about on holiday. Yet this summer she is travelling to Tokyo to represent her country in the KL3 with the aim of bringing home a Paralympic medal.

As a former international hockey player for Wales and a T44 100m and 200m Paralympian in 2016, Sugar’s athletic credentials were never in doubt. However, even she admits the speed of her transition has taken her by surprise.

“Four years ago I would never have had a clue that I’d be doing canoeing in the games,” Sugar says.

Although British Canoeing first enquired about the feasibility of Sugar joining them in 2017, she did not herself find out until the following year.

“There's an unwritten rule. You don't go and steal athletes from other sports,” Sugar explains. She adds that when Paula Dunn, the head coach of the British Athletics Paralympic programme, gave her blessing, she decided to try canoeing and became instantly hooked.

“I just presumed it was a completely upper body sport and my disability wouldn’t be eligible. I thought I’d give it a go and did a bit towards the end of 2018. I didn’t realise that, actually, you do need to use your legs and your whole body and what an amazing sport it was and I kind of fell in love with it.”

Physically, Sugar was well-equipped for the sport from day one, something she attributes to “lugging hay bales and water” for horses as a child as well as her upper body training for athletics.

However, she attributes her success to her coaches and her sponge-like approach to training. “I have literally started from fresh and with some of the best coaches in the world,” she says. She then explains that, due to her lack of experience in the sport, she didn’t have any deeply ingrained bad habits for the coaching team to iron out.

“I’ve been able to start with a completely blank sheet,” Sugar says, adding that she puts her entire trust in her coaches and simply tries to absorb as much as possible from them. “I think I'm quite coachable. Colin [Radmore, Lead Technical Coach] might completely disagree with this, but I'm a sponge.”

This approach seems to have worked wonders. In 2019, her debut season, Sugar picked up three international medals, including a silver in the KL3 200m in her first paracanoe World Championships. More success followed and in May 2021 she took gold in the women’s KL3 200m in Szeged, Hungary.

Sugar also finds respite in her other career, as a sports coach at Uppingham School, where she works part-time.

“It’s a great escape,” Sugar explains.  “The day before our selection I was offered the day off to rest. But I said ‘actually, no, I'm going to work because I'd rather be distracted.’ I didn't think about the next day’s selection for most of the day, because I was having fun coaching great kids.”