Ian Marsden

Graduate story

World record holding powerlifter and more recently Paralympic paracanoe medallist, Ian Marsden began his professional life as a Staffordshire University graduate – and he’s let nothing get in the way of his success. Following his graduation in BSc (Hons) Biochemistry and Microbiology from our award-winning institution in 2000, Ian began to pursue a career in the microbiology sector, successfully climbing the ladder to a position of responsibility as a Veterinary Microbiologist.

Ian had a unique Staffordshire University experience, being the first student at our institution to study a scientific degree as a wheelchair user. Not only did Ian break the boundaries of conventional studying, he also became a leading voice in the development and implementation of various accessible equipment and designs on campus to ensure that future students could enjoy the same experiences as himself.

Ian said “Having an accessible campus was critical to my success in education, and helping to develop the University facilities was the least I could do. Hopefully, it will help students facing the same challenges as myself to build confidence in the institutions' capabilities and willingness to provide accessible equipment and make the university experience inclusive for everyone.”

Education and professional success, however, is only a small part of Ian’s story. Through the connections he’d made as an able-bodied powerlifter, where he became Junior World Powerlifting champion in 1992 breaking three world records in the process, and as a successful European and world champion hand cyclist – it was time for him to leave his scientific career behind, and focus his efforts into becoming a full-time professional athlete.

Ian has made waves as a professional athlete through multiple sports, including powerlifting, hand cycling, shooting and paracanoeing. His most recent triumphs are his Bronze Medal as a paracanoeist in the KL1 event in the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Paralympic games, and his successful representation as a finalist for Team GB in the 2020 Tokyo Paralympics. These achievements are just a snapshot of the overall career success that Ian has had, with many other notable achievements including:

  • 2019 National Championships Nottingham June – Gold
  • 2017 National Regattas April – September - Gold
  • 2015 National sprint championships - Gold
  • 2015 Senior European Paracanoe / Kayak Sprint Championships - Gold WR
  • 2011 IPC Shooting World Cup SH1 Falling Target - Silver
  • 2005 BCF-R.T.T.C (Handcycling) British Time Trial championships - Gold
  • 1992 WPC Teenage / Junior World Powerlifting Championships 67.5kg - Gold WRx3

As a full-time athlete with British Canoeing, Ian is looking ahead towards his next challenge in sport, but also as an inspirational professional in business and education environments. Ian often hosts or contributes to talks in academic and industry environments, helping to educate others about the challenges of becoming both a Paralympian and a successful professional.

“Talking is the best way to share my experiences of sport with the world. Whether it’s demonstrating the commitment and sacrifice that needs to be made to become a full-time athlete – or it’s helping people build the confidence they need to realise their potential, I’m happy to help.”

Ian has faced more challenges than most during his professional and personal life, and probably has more achievements to show for it too! After a career as a record-breaking powerlifter in his teenage years Ian suffered a life-changing sporting injury, which damaged his spinal cord and left him unable to walk. Dedicated and determined to fulfil his potential, Ian began studying at Staffordshire University, with the aid of dedicated PhD students that provided any solutions to his challenges in accessibility. During this time, Ian adapted his powerlifting method to compete in para powerlifting competitions, and started to focus on hand cycling as a new way to quench his thirst for sporting success.

After graduating, Ian poured more effort and determination into his sporting career. However, at the peak of his hand cycling and para powerlifting performance, Ian suffered another sporting injury, damaging his vertebrae and forcing him to retire from the sports he had become a figurehead for. During his recovery from the injury, Ian was also diagnosed with a rare motor neurone condition, affecting his physical performance further.

Injury and setbacks, however, aren’t in Ian’s vocabulary. While recovering from his neck injury, Ian used his sporting contacts to secure trials in a new sport – shooting. Shortly after his recovery, Ian found success shooting professionally, competing in World Cup events and much more.

Ian is heavily involved in the Talent ID scheme for UK Sport, and it is this that led him into his latest and most successful venture, as a member of the British Paracanoeing team. After training and successfully breaking into the team, Ian has achieved success in multiple championships, including the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Paralympic games. His run into the 2020 Tokyo Paralympic games wasn’t straight forward due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which not only delayed the Paralympic games, but put a huge amount of pressure on his daily training regime and his family life. With four children of varying age ranges to look after, a wife working on the frontline as a registered nurse, and the heart-breaking loss of his father to Covid-19, it was one of the hardest trials that Ian had faced in his entire life. Nevertheless, Ian worked hard, overcame the challenge and flew to Tokyo, where he surpassed expectations once again, becoming a finalist in his category and becoming an inspiration to people around the world yet again.


Course studied
Biochemistry and Microbiology
Year of graduation
in the UK for Quality Education

Sustainable Development Goal 4, Times Higher Education Impact Rankings 2024

for Career Prospects

Whatuni Student Choice Awards 2023

for Facilities

Whatuni Student Choice Awards 2023

for Social Inclusion

The Times and The Sunday Times Good University Guide 2023

of Research Impact is ‘Outstanding’ or ‘Very Considerable’

Research Excellence Framework 2021

of Research is “Internationally Excellent” or “World Leading”

Research Excellence Framework 2021

Four Star Rating

QS Star Ratings 2021