You don’t win a silver medal at the Paralympics, or four gold medals at the world championships, if you’re not a tough cookie, but it’s still impressive that, despite a stress fracture in his navicular bone, Stefan Daniel was able to help his Calgary Dinos cross country team successfully defend their U-Sports national championship last November.
Ever the class act, Daniel said he didn’t feel that broken bone during his 12th-place finish at the U-Sports championship in Kingston. Just two weeks before that finish Daniel had taken the CanWest cross-country title with an impressive wire-to-wire performance. It was right after that race, though, that he started to have issues with his foot.
“After CanWest my foot flared up,” he said in a phone interview earlier this week. “I ran through it and the pain went down through the week. Four or five days before USports, I wasn’t feeling anything. I didn’t feel anything during the race, either, but immediately afterwards I knew something was wrong. I was in a lot of pain.”
“I did everything I could,” the 22-year-old said of his race in Kingston. “I was so happy that I got to race. I was really proud of my effort. The rest of the guys had a really great race. I was so happy for Russell (Pennock, another triathlete) to get another medal. (Pennock finished third.) To go back to back was really special.”
The fact that Daniel was still racing well into November was impressive in and of itself. He started his season on March 9 with a win at the CAMTRI Paratriathlon American Championships in Sarasota. He continued his winning ways with Paratriathlon world series titles in Yokohama, Japan and Montreal. In August he took the test event in Tokyo, then won his fourth world title in Lausanne in September.
Right after his big win in Switzerland, Stefan was back helping the Dinos with their quest to take another national title.
“The team championship was my big goal,” he said. “Being able to share something like that with your teammates is really special. You work together all the time and make each other better.”
Daniel, who will arrive in Tokyo next summer as one of the favourites to take Paratriathlon gold, was forced to take six weeks off to allow the injury to heel – five and a half of those weeks were on crutches. The timing actually worked out well – “I was taking my off season after cross country anyway.”
This is the first time Daniel has had to deal with an injury of this sort and, along with the timing, like all great champions, he’s figured out how to turn the adversity into a “pretty positive experience.”
“I had school to focus on,” he said. “It’s also forced me to be super disciplined to get sleep and work on nutrition. Now I’ll be forced to focus on my riding, which is my weak point.”
(Others might argue that you don’t win four world titles with any “weak points.”)
Daniel has returned to biking and swimming and is gearing up for a full winter of training that includes a camp down in Tucson in February where he’ll “ride outside with the guys” and get ready for his first race of the season in Sarasota in March.
With the Paralympics in mind, he’ll take the winter off from school, but will take an online course to “keep his mind busy.”
Great champions figure out how to win. They also figure out how to overcome adversity. Stefan Daniel is definitely a great champion and appears to have this bit of adversity more than figured out. And, to top it off, he even managed to help his team win a second straight national title.