By Mary Beth Walker
Injured soldier Steve Daniel has made the Canadian team that is heading to the Beijing 2008 Paralympic Games. He is the first modern-day soldier to make Canada’s Paralympic team.
Daniel will be competing in adaptive rowing, a sport that will make its debut as an official sport on the Paralympic program this September in Bejing. He will be competing in the AM1x event.
“I've been blessed with the unique opportunity to compete in rowing in its inaugural year at the Paralympics, the significance of which I have not really been able to fully grasp,” said Daniel. “I am excited to represent my nation again, and will do my best to make Canada proud, especially the men and women in uniform who I know will be cheering the loudest from their places of duty around the globe.”
Daniel was a paratrooper with the Canadian Armed Forces for 14 years and served in four overseas missions. During instructor training for free-fall parachuting in Canada in June 2005, he landed with too much speed, and ended up paralyzed from the waist down.
Today, the retired soldier is not only training for the Paralympic Games, but also working toward a business degree.
He was introduced to several Paralympic sports, including wheelchair basketball, sitting volleyball and ice sledge hockey, at the inaugural Soldier On Paralympic Sport Summit, held in May 2007 in Ottawa. The summit was a joint initiative of the Department of National Defence and the Canadian Paralympic Committee.
Following his accident, Daniel was contacted by Sgt. Andrew McLean, a former colleague and a driving force behind fundraising efforts for the Soldier On program.
The Soldier On program is aimed at introducing Paralympic sport to injured soldiers and making them aware of how sport can help in their rehabilitation. One component of the program is providing grants to help with the cost of acquiring sporting equipment.
“The fact that Andrew was proactive in helping out injured soldiers was the main factor for me getting involved with the program. I was looking for a way to stay active as well, and sought out adaptive sport as a way of getting back into shape,” Daniel said.
He said the program helped him with his rehabilitation. After attending the Soldier On Paralympic Sport Summit, he began participating in sports such as wheelchair basketball and sledge hockey. This helped him in his personal journey of challenging himself to be fit and competitive again, he added.
Later in 2007, a friend invited him to try rowing.
“Adaptive rowing was a perfect fit for me,” Daniel said. “I wanted a sport that I could do without having to travel away from my family.”
An adaptive rowing program was established in Sudbury, where Daniel now lives, last summer. So shortly after attending the summit, Daniel found himself on the water
“The attractiveness of rowing is that it is an ideal sport for someone confined to a wheelchair,” said Daniel. “The rowing motion is easy on the shoulders and arms compared to wheeling a chair, as well as being a great way to attain cardiovascular fitness. The sense of freedom and speed once on the water is a great feeling.”
Daniel said he will continue to prepare for Beijing by competing in as many regattas as he can in the next couple of months. Last week, he competed at the US Nationals and placed second in the arms-only rowing category.
“Ultimately, I have to get on the water as much as possible and push myself towards the Paralympic standard,” said Daniel.
Adaptive rowing is similar to able-bodied rowing. Participants learn all the elements of rowing: drive, recovery, catch angle, oar handling, etc. Adaptive refers to the equipment being adapted to the athlete, rather than the sport being adapted to the competitor.