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Former Canadian soldier moves from battlefield to regatta course at Beijing Paralympics
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15:02, September 09, 2008

Steve Daniel has every reason to feel unfair, but now he's happier than ever.

Three years ago, the former Canadian Armed Forces sergeant was paralysed from the waist down after a parachuting accident, now he's a record-breaking athlete and is aiming for the Beijing 2008 Paralympic Games as an adaptive rower, an entirely different battle.

"I felt very happy to be named in the Canadian Paralympic rowing team. I know that the upcoming days will be an thrilling experience. The Canadian athletes have done a good job in the Beijing Olympics, and we are here hoping to pull off a good showing too," Daniel told Xinhua.

"It is special for the rowers to participate in this level and especially when the event is making its first appearance in the Paralympics, all the athletes are hoping to make marks with their very first step.

"I am excited to represent my nation again at the most important disabled sporting event in the world, 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," the 34-year-old added.

Born in South Canada's Sudbury on June 23, 1974, Daniel has had a long battle to get where he is now.

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 when he had a free-fall parachuting accident while conducting a course. The day's jump was his 102nd.

"I was falling too fast and didn't realize how fast I was going," said Daniel, recalling the day of his accident.

He tried to brake, but there wasn't enough wind. So he landed on his rear end and fractured his vertebrae. "I knew as soon as I landed that something had gone terribly wrong because I can't get up," he said.

Daniel's life changed from that moment and it included a long healing and rehabilitation period.

"It is really hard to cope with this disability and it involves so many aspects," the Canadian said, "but I've always been a positive person. Once I accepted the fact that I'm in a wheelchair to spend my life, I just make it a challenge."

Daniel soon started looking for ways to live an active lifestyle. He took up adaptive rowing last year and discovered what many others already knew: The sport, which is making its Paralympic debut in Beijing, presents a great opportunity for athletes with disabilities to test their mettle.

"Adaptive rowing was good for me," Daniel said. "I just want a sport that I could do without having to go away from my family."

"And the rowing motion is easy on the shoulders and arms compared to the wheelchair basketball, as well as being a great way to attain cardiovascular fitness. The sense of freedom and speed on the water is also a great feeling."

He trained hard both in an actual boat and on a rowing machine called ergometer, which saw him make consistent progress, and after just eight months' work, Daniel won gold and set the 1,000-metres Canadian record for arms-only athletes with a time of 4 minutes, 29.6 seconds in the Canadian indoor rowing championships.

He then was invited to train with the national adaptive rowing team and in June he won the men's arms-only seat on the team.

"Steve is the fastest arms-only rower in Canada," said Daniel's coach Thomas Merritt. "I think he has the potential to be the fastest athlete in his category in the world."

There's no water in indoor rowing. Instead, competitors row on their machines, with their progress on the one-kilometre "course" displayed on video screens.

He and his coach must have worked hard to convert his indoor performance into a strong ability on the water. Recently he placed second in a tough field at the U.S. national championships.

"That's not a trivial undertaking. But he has very good mental focus. When he concentrates on something, he concentrates on something," Merritt said.

Now Daniel has to balance his training as a top-flight athlete with his education. After his accident, he enrolled in a three-year business administration program at Cambrian College in Sudbury, his hometown.

If everything proceeds according to plan, his training will lead him to another university, where he will enter a program allowing him to focus on sports administration.

Daniel also acts as president of his basketball club, and has found both funds and games for it. He plays sledge hockey in a local team and managed to raise 6,000 U.S. dollars he needed to buy his own boat for rowing.

"At the moment of the accident, I never thought that I could be active again and even this happy with my life. I tell my son many times that no matter what happens in life, you can always find a way out," he said.

Source: Xinhua

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