CALGARY – With three world titles under his belt, it’s sometimes hard to remember that Para triathlon athlete Stefan Daniel is still all of 21 years old. The meteoric rise to success on the international stage and the pressure to remain No. 1 in his sport hit a crossroads this past summer.
For Daniel, it was at once the toughest season of his career but also his most satisfying.
‘’To bring it all together at the end was unexpected,’’ he said about winning the gold medal at the world championships in Gold Coast, Australia last month. ‘’It was probably the most special of the world championships I won.”
For the first time in his career, Daniel faced adversity that wasn’t in the form of another competitor.
‘’It was hard for me to get motivated,’’ admitted the second-year business student at the University of Calgary. ‘’A bad race early in the season played with me. I struggled with enjoyment of the sport and it showed in the racing.’’
That’s not an easy situation for a triathlete. The training regimen is arduous. For Daniel it is swimming and cycling four times a week and running six days a week along with the gym work menu.
He struggled at able-bodied events such as the American Cup in Richmond, B.C. where he placed 33rd compared to 17th in 2017, and was 42nd at the duathlon world championships compared to eighth a year earlier. A subpar showing at a Para triathlon World Series event in Italy, was rock bottom.
‘’My parents gave me a call right after my Italy race, they knew how devastated I was,’’ said Daniel. “They put it all in perspective for me. I was putting too much pressure on myself. For every workout I was stressed and wasn’t exactly there. I would get all frustrated.
‘’That ends up beating you up quite a bit and I started to panic a lot.’’
That call seemed to clear his mind and Daniel decided to tackle the final stretch of the season with a more relaxed approach. It’s a strategy he plans to keep particularly with the great finish to the year he produced.
Born with bilateral radial club hands with his right arm significantly more affected, Daniel comes from a very active family. He began running in local road races with his parents at a young age and soon joined the University of Calgary Athletic Club.
‘’Over the grand scheme of things this year is going to go down as a good learning experience on how to approach training differently,’’ said Daniel. ‘’I know that everybody is training hard. I want to do that but also enjoy the sport.
‘’If I have a healthy mindset, I’ll stay in the sport for a long time.’’