Para canoeist Susan Seipel believes she is "stronger and fitter" than 12 months ago, heading into Tokyo 2020 ©Queensland Academy of Sport

Para canoeist Susan Seipel believes she is "stronger and fitter leading into the Games now, than I was 12 months ago", benefitting from the postponement of Tokyo 2020.

"The postponement of the Paralympic Games did come as a shock but in hindsight I think it was absolutely the right decision," Seipel told insidethegames.

"The extra time gave me the opportunity to do longer blocks of fitness and strength work than usual.

"I also included pilates into my programme for something different."

The Australian, who won a bronze medal at the Rio 2016 Paralympics in the women's KL2, feels "very lucky" to have been able to train largely as normal in spite of the global health crisis.

Paddle Australia loaned gym equipment to enable athletes to maintain fitness levels at home during lockdowns, and paddling a solo kayak or canoe outdoors was considered a low-risk activity, so could continue.

"The biggest impact to my sport due to the pandemic has been the ban on international travel," Seipel explained.

"I really miss travelling overseas and representing my country at international competitions."

Susan Seipel, a Rio 2016 bronze medallist, also won VL2 world titles in 2015 and 2017 ©Getty Images
Susan Seipel, a Rio 2016 bronze medallist, also won VL2 world titles in 2015 and 2017 ©Getty Images

Australia has strict entry requirements, having largely done an admirable job of containing the spread of COVID-19, limiting the chances to travel abroad for competitions.

This has hurt unclassified athletes in particular.

"The classification process is an essential part of all Paralympic sport and has been greatly affected by the pandemic," said Seipel.

"We have a number of new athletes in my sport whom have been classified nationally but in order to represent Australia overseas they must have their classification confirmed internationally. 

"Attending international events for classification during the pandemic is complicated and more expensive due to the travel bans and mandatory quarantine for return travellers."

Seipel is a brand ambassador for Oru, which makes a foldable kayak that has given the Rio 2016 medallist "a level of freedom I did not have before" as it is considerably easier to transport.

Seeing Para athletes asked to be brand ambassadors "reflects a positive change in attitudes", Seipel believes, and can help to foster inclusivity.

"I think it is very important for Para athletes to be brand ambassadors," Seipel said. 

"I think this reflects a positive change in attitudes and perceptions within society towards people living with disabilities. 

"Representation of Para athletes breaks down barriers and challenges outdated stereotypes. 

"We are role models with incredible stories about achieving success in sport, often while overcoming stigma, social inequality, and even discrimination. 

"Para athletes have excellent values that can benefit brands, such as resilience and determination, while also playing an active role in advancing global human rights."

The Tokyo 2020 Paralympics are due to begin on August 24.