Who is Sue?

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Food, wine and travel lover

The story of my life would not be complete without mentioning my health, because this has influenced so much of who I am now, both in good ways and bad. For this reason, I have written separate stories, so you can read whatever you like! If you want a quick synopsis, scroll to the bottom of the page.

My career journey:

My career started a long time ago (not quite when dinosaurs were roaming the earth, but close!) and began with three months as a lab technician in a mineral analysis lab and then seven years as a research assistant in a contract laboratory, working with printer ink and toner formulations. This work experience came back to bite me on the bum many years later, but that is covered in my health journey.

My love affair with the wine industry begins…

The research lab was a long way from home, and I heard about a job in a wine lab only 10 minutes down the road (thanks cousin Stefan!). I was lucky enough to get that job and many of the people I worked with then are still good friends, 30 plus years later. After 18 months there and one vintage, I left to have my first daughter.

When Mandy was 4 months old, I explored part-time work – again in the wine industry. The Australian Wine Research Institute (AWRI) was known as a place to contact for any available job opportunities, so I got in touch and lo and behold, they had a part time job available!

In the early 90’s at the AWRI

In the early 90’s at the AWRI

I went for an interview, providing references from my winery colleagues, who, of course, were friends of my potential supervisor (they don’t call it the grapevine for nothing!). I was successful and worked there for more than 13 years, including a brief sojourn to have my second daughter, Sally. It was a great place to work and I became Manager of the Analytical Service during my later years there. I had some fabulous mentors who taught me so much and also fostered my love of learning (yes, I’m talking about you Professor Terry Lee and Nigel Sneyd MW). They encouraged me to go to University (I was a high school drop out) and also sponsored my post graduate management qualifications.

A new chapter…

During my last years at AWRI, I spent some time in California, working with the world’s biggest winery E&J Gallo and ETS Laboratories, the most technologically advanced wine lab in the world. This inspired a career change, which included 4 months in the US the following year working vintage in a small winery. It was a life changing experience and I decided that one of the things I wanted to do in the future was facilitate this experience for others.

The fun begins…

When I got back to Australia I started my own business, running workshops and consulting for wineries around Australia. I toured the wine regions of the US and South Africa doing the same thing and during this time I scoped out the interest in vintage experiences for young people, and found there were many interested from all over the world.

shovelling

In California in 1999, shovelling pumice (red grape skins) at the winery, using muscles I didn’t know existed!

This led to a negotiation with the Australian Department of Immigration for permission to operate an exchange program, where young winemakers from Australia got the opportunity to work overseas, and people from overseas got the chance to work here in Australia. Over the 18 years this business was in operation, more than 2,000 people experienced the same life-changing experience that I did. Unfortunately, the government decided that these programs were no longer relevant and ended all contracts in 2019.

The side hussle…

Due to my autoimmune diagnosis in 2003 (see my health story below) and the subsequent secondary diagnosis in 2015, I decided to go back to University and investigate ways that could support my lifestyle and prevent the progression of my condition. This resulted in enrolment in a degree in Nutritional Medicine part time. The degree took me 8 years, due in part to COVID, however, I finished in October 2022. At the same time I also studied positive psychology and other self-development courses. The last step of my education was to get board certification in Lifestyle Medicine, and I plan, in this, my last career, to use all that I have learnt to help as many people as I can to feel better.

My health journey:
Owning your own business is wonderful but…

I loved being in control of everything, but being a control freak is not without its downsides. I was juggling many things and it was very stressful. The long-term stress, coupled with my exposure to environmental toxins in a previous job, meant I was at greater risk of developing a chronic illness. Sure enough, in 2003, I got sick. It took a long time to find out what was wrong and I was upset to learn I had an autoimmune condition called scleroderma (meaning ‘hard skin’). It’s pretty rare (1 in 10,000) but two other colleagues at the research lab I worked in all those years ago were also diagnosed with the same condition. I had a pity party for a while and then set about learning as much as I could about living with scleroderma and minimising the symptoms. Of course, vigilance is key, so suddenly I had a team of doctors and specialists who required 6 monthly hospital visits.

I didn’t learn…

Unfortunately, I didn’t get the message the Universe had sent me to slow down and I just kept on operating my business, expanding it and luckily employing some fantastic and skilful help. After a few years I was in remission. The symptoms of scleroderma had reduced and it was more manageable. So, I kept on living my stressful life. Then the Universe bit me on the bum to remind me again. This time the condition was more sinister, and a secondary condition called pulmonary hypertension was diagnosed. This meant that the ‘hard skin’ of scleroderma had affected my lungs, which in turn had caused the right side of my heart to enlarge. I had always been told that I would die ‘with’ scleroderma not ‘from’ it, however, pulmonary hypertension was a bit different. In fact, the published data said the normal prognosis for someone with secondary pulmonary hypertension was 5 years. That is not true in my case, because it’s been more than 8 years since I was diagnosed and clearly, I am still alive and kicking! I have, however, spent a lot of time researching and trying to figure out what might support my condition. Luckily the disease has not progressed as it was supposed to and apart from getting tired easily, I am fine.

I tell this cautionary tale…

I am hoping that if I tell everyone what happened to me, it might make someone living a stressful life, have second thoughts. I also hope that anyone who does get diagnosed with a serious condition will do their own research and advocate for their own care, rather than relying solely on the advice of the doctors. Alternatively, if you need a health professional to do the research for you and suggest supporting factors, you know where I am!

In a nutshell…

I have been presenting on health and self-development and a number of topics relevant to my careers for more than 25 years. I have delivered full and half-day workshops, short presentations and key notes in Australia, New Zealand, USA, Europe and South Africa. Educating and entertaining participants with stories and laughter has been a favourite role of mine, and I will spend the rest of my working life doing what I love – sharing my experiences and life lessons with others in the hope that I can help them feel better.

Studied:

Chemistry at Flinders University
Management at the University of South Australia
Positive Psychology at the Langley Institute
Nutritional Medicine at Endeavour College
International Board Certification as a Lifestyle Medicine Practitioner with the Australian Society of Lifestyle Medicine (ASLM)

Public speaking:

Workshops in Australia, New Zealand South Africa and the US.
Self-development and health workshops in Australia and Europe.
Key-note speaker in South Africa, South America, New Zealand, Denmark and Spain.

This me as a 4 year old. I still love Twisties and their Cheezel cousins, but I don’t eat them as much as I used to!

Memberships:

Professional member of:
Australian Natural Therapists Association (ANTA)
Australian Society of Lifestyle Medicine (ASLM)
Australasian College of Environmental and Nutrition Medicine (ACNEM)
Royal Association of Justices of South Australia (RAJSA) – Justice of the Peace since 1992

Family:

Married to the very patient Martin
Two delightful daughters, Mandy and Sally
Three gorgeous grandchildren, Emma, Chloe and Eli
Pets: Two crazy cats, Yusuf and Clarry

Passions:

Besides food, wine and travel, I enjoy knitting, and growing vegetables and flowers in my tiny garden.

Get in touch

Use the contact form to send us an email.

Better yet, call us on 0417 867 440 and let’s have a chat or send us a text.

Email: contact@upsidefocus.com.au

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