Gold medal-winning para athlete and life-saving rowers honoured by RAU

28 Oct 2019

A para athlete who excels at two different sports and rowers who rescued a drowning man were among the students honoured at our autumn Prizes and Awards celebration.

Suzanna Hext - who has won three European Gold medals in para dressage and World Silver and Bronze in para swimming - was made an Honorary Fellow of the RAU. Henry Jackson and Alfie England received Bravery Awards from the Royal Humane Society, for saving a man’s life while they were rowing in Gloucester canal.

Having gained a first-class degree in Equine Science from the RAU in 2012, Suzanna, an international level event rider from Cornwall, was just beginning her career when a riding accident caused her life-changing injuries.

Despite two years in and out of hospital and 13 operations, Suzanna went on to win three European Para Dressage Gold Medals for Team GB in 2017.

After swimming as part of her rehabilitation, Suzanna took up the sport competitively in January this year and just eight months later won medals in S5 50m and 100m freestyle at the World Para Swimming Championships. She is now aiming for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.

Rob Aubry, Head Coach of British Para-Swimming, said: "From the first day Suzanna arrived at the National Performance Centre in Manchester to train, she displayed a level of determination, enthusiasm, and willingness to learn, which stood out even amongst a team of world class athletes and Paralympic medallists. Her desire to push herself to the limits of her capabilities and to get the most out of each and every session, coupled with her infectious smile, has brought a new sense of energy and motivation to the team. 

Suzanna is already one of the top athletes on the programme and competing with the very best in her class.  However, as someone who is still relatively new to the sport, there is a huge opportunity for Suzanna to improve technically and take her swimming to the next level. The aim for Suzanna now is to qualify for the 2020 Paralympic Games in Tokyo, and we believe that with the right training she can achieve anything she wants once she’s there. In the meantime, we hope that she can continue to inspire the next generation of British athletes."

Image shows Suzanna Hext receiving her award from the Vice-Chancellor

RAU senior lecturer Peter Morris who delivered the oration for Suzanna’s Fellowship said: “To represent Britain in one sport is a significant achievement but to excel in two is nothing short of extraordinary. We’re proud that Suzanna has accepted our invitation to become an Honorary Fellow and that she will continue to represent the University as her exceptional sporting career progresses.”

Describing her first call up for the para dressage team Suzanna said: “You never think it's going to happen. Although I would have my old body back in a flash, the best days of my life have been after my accident. Pushing forward and ticking off those goals means a huge amount. In the saddle is my happy place – my accident has changed my perspective and taught me to treasure every moment.

She said of her time studying in Cirencester: “The RAU is more than just a degree. It has helped me through the tough times, held me in good stead, taught me to be independent and dedicated to my work and my sport – more importantly it has taught me to enjoy life and have a good time. I have some incredible friends who have stuck by me through thick and thin.”

Henry Jackson, from Malmesbury, was coxing for the RAU Boat Club at 7am on 26 February, when he saw a man fall into the water and struggle to climb up the steep bank.

Henry threw his life-jacket to the man, stripped off and jumped into the cold water, grabbing hold of him, then swimming with him to the side of the canal. Alfie England, from Horncastle, who was one of the rowers, also jumped into the water. With the help of another boat owner, the three managed to get the man on to the towpath. 

He had stopped breathing and Henry started giving CPR, which restarted the man’s breathing and allowed him to go on and make a full recovery.

Both students were awarded Royal Humane Society Testimonials on Parchment, after being nominated by British Rowing.

Andrew Chapman, Secretary of the Society said:  “If they had not acted as they did the man would certainly have drowned. The water at that time of year was bitterly cold and they put themselves at considerable risk going into it but they didn’t hesitate. Their only thought was to save the man. They did a superb job and as a result a life was saved.”

Henry said after the ceremony that he doesn’t see himself as a hero: “I just did what I hope anyone would have done. At the rowing club we’ve always looked out for each other and if I ever needed help in that way I know Alfie would be there for me.”

Having just graduated in Rural Land Management from the RAU he said his career ambitions were to ‘do something outside and away from an office’.

Prof Joanna Price, Vice-Chancellor of the RAU said: “The extraordinary achievements of Suzanna, Henry and Alfie are inspirational, demonstrating a passion and bravery that will inspire current and future students. Congratulations also to each of our prizewinners, who have excelled in their subjects and shown dedication and commitment to their future professions.”           

A group of 40 RAU students including Henry, Alfie and Suzanna received prizes and awards at the ceremony in the University’s Boutflour Hall.