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Rower 'Soldiers On' To Represent Canada At Beijing paralympics

Date Published Sep. 2, 2008

Paralympian athlete and third year Cambrian College student Steve Daniel will be competing in the Beijing Paralympics

By SABRINA BYRNES

Sudbury native and Canada's fastest arms-only rower, Steve Daniel, will be representing Canada at the Paralympics in Beijing this month.

"He's the fastest arms-only rower that Canada has ever seen," said Daniel's coach Thomas Merritt.

"Steve has, in my opinion, the potential to be the fastest athlete in his category," he said.

Born in Sudbury June 23, 1974 and raised in Levack, attending both Levack Public School and high school, Daniel has had a long battle to get where he is today.

Joining the army right out of high school at the age of 19, Daniel served 14 years with the Royal Canadian Regiment based in Petawawa where part of his duties included parachute instructing.

Three years ago while serving his country, Daniel's future changed.

On June 30, 2005, Daniel had a free-fall parachuting accident while conducting a course.

"Basically I came in really hard and landed on my rear end and burst-fractured one of my vertebrae, my T11 vertebrae, and was paralyzed instantly," said Daniel, recalling the day of his accident.

Daniel's life changed from that moment and it included a long healing and rehabilitation period. He spent two weeks in a hospital in Kingston where he had surgery to have two rods inserted along the side of his spine, fusing it together. He spent two and a half months in Ottawa after that for rehabilitation.

"It's quite a shock to have something like that happen," Daniel said, adding that he just took it day-by-day in the beginning, getting through the intense therapy.

"You really have to learn how to live with this disability and it involves so many, so many aspects," he said.

Daniel started rowing last May when he was approached by Minna Mettinen-Kekalainen, who had implemented an adaptive rowing program at the Sudbury Rowing Club along with Merritt. An invaluable amount of support from the community, including funding from Rowing Canada, RowOntario, a Canadian Paralympic Summer Equipment Grant and a grant from the Ontario Ministry of Health Community in Action Fund, has allowed the program to run and equipment to be purchased.

Daniel was accustomed to living a very active lifestyle, especially in terms of keeping his body fit to enable him to perform his military duties. He said rowing was a natural progression for him as he was looking for things to keep him active and healthy.

Daniel started rowing in a double with his coach. Merritt noted that, after the first practice, he wasn't sure if Daniel would continue. He noted that rowing is deceptively harder than people think it is, and it can be quite frustrating. Daniel kept going to the practices and over the winter he became faster and faster.

Amazingly, Daniel competed in the Canadian Indoor Rowing Championships in Toronto the beginning of February, and broke the Canadian record.

"That feeling as a coach, to walk away from that, was amazing," said Merritt. He added athletes are usually quite drained after a competition like that, but Daniel was still all smiles.

Based on that performance, Daniel was invited to the national training camp, but there wasn't a boat for him to train with. Before the winter Daniel had only trained in a double on the water. Now that he was going to race single in the arms-only category, they had to come up with a way to get a a boat.

And they did. Through the support of the community programs and Soldier On - an organization in partnership with the Canadian Paralympic Committee that aids in the support of veterans with physical or psychological disabilities to lead healthy active lives through recreation and sport - they were able to purchase a boat for Daniel and all the modifications he would need to properly train.

In June of this year, Daniel secured a spot on the adaptive team and was selected to be on the Canadian Paralympic Team going to Beijing.

"I guess my goal along was to make the National team. I just wasn't sure if it would happen this year. Everything came together very well,"said Daniel.

Since he broke the Canadian record in February, Daniel placed second at the US Nationals in New Jersey and recently placed first at the Henley Regatta in St. Catharines. He said he hopes to continue doing well when he competes in Beijing.

"The competition is stiff, but I'm going in there with my full determination to get on that podium,"said Daniel.

Merritt said he thinks Daniel has great potential and has been a great athlete to coach.

"Steve is very bright, he's used to physically training. He wasn't a competitive athlete, but he was used to physically training as a soldier," said Merritt.

"He has very good mental focus. When he concentrates on something, he concentrates on something."

Merritt said he would love to see Daniel medal in Beijing and thinks he has the potential to be the fastest arms-only rower on the planet. He admits they have no idea what the international competition will be like, however. He added the hot, muggy weather will also be a challenge.

"It's an uphill battle. There's some fantastic athletes in our races," Merritt said.

Daniel is going into his third year at Cambrian College for Business Administration. After his time there he says he would like to pursue a degree at Laurentian University in Sports Administration.

Promoting adaptive sport is very important, said Daniel. He said he wants to bring more awareness to adaptive sport and the benefits that come from it.

"My goal is to try and get as many disabled people in Sudbury involved in sport as I can," Daniel said.

"There's so many benefits to sport. You don't have to be a competitive athlete to gain those benefits. Just participating is great," he said.

Daniel also participates in wheelchair basketball, as well as sledge hockey.

The paralympian has overcome a lot of challenges to be where he is today. He said he has great support from his wife, Danielle Fraser, whom he met when he first joined the army, and his five-year-old son, Owen.

Daniel said he thinks it's important to embrace life - and his son motivates him to stay strong.

"Having a disability, especially something like a spinal cord injury, is very tough. It takes time to deal with that situation, but once you get over that initial hurdle I think it's important to look forward and really try to see what you can get out of life," Daniel said.

"I have a young son ... that's really my inspiration for what I do. I want to be a good example to him. I don't want him to grow up thinking it's all right just to sit back and feel sorry for yourself."

"Everyone has issues and problems that they have to deal with. The most important thing is to keep a positive attitude."

Daniel left for Elk Lake in British Columbia Aug. 24 where he trained until Aug. 30 before heading to Beijing. This is the first year adaptive rowing will have a showing in the Paralympics and the competitions will take place Sept. 9-11.

To view an audio slideshow of Daniel's story visit www.northernlife.ca, click on special sections, then click on photo galleries.

Reproduced from http://www.northernlife.ca/News/Sports/2008/090208-paralympicsTOP.asp?NLStory=090208 -paralympicsTOP

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