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Meet the Paralympian who’s winning Canadian cross-country races

Stefan Daniel is a 22-year-old paratriathlete who represented Canada at the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio and he's hoping to help the Calgary Dinos to back-to-back cross-country titles

Stefan Daniel was the 2019 Can West cross-country champion–his first individual collegiate title. Daniel’s a member of the Calgary Dinos cross-country team, the 2018 U Sports champions, who are poised to make it back-to-back wins in one week’s time. Daniel is a 22-year-old paratriathlete who represented Canada at the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio. Daniel was born with bilateral radial club hands, meaning that his right arm is significantly shorter than his left arm.

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Daniel’s dad competed in full-distance triathlons, his mom was a marathoner and his older brother Christian was born with cerebral palsy and was a member of Canada’s paralympic swim team. Coming from a family with such a strong sporting background, finding his athletic groove was pretty easy. He started out as a swimmer and would do the occasional road race with his mom. But he says he’s a runner at heart, and always ran cross-country. “I did soccer too, lots of sports. I really got serious about triathlon in 2013 when we found out it would be added to the paralympics.”

Daniel went from the 2019 ITU Paratriathlon World Championships in Lausanne, where he won, right into cross-country season with the Dinos. But Daniel says that those two seasons feel entirely different. “I kind of consider cross-country season as my running training block. I really like training with the Dinos, it’s a great team culture.”

Photo: Maxine Gravina. Calgary men, 2018 U Sports XC champs.

The Calgary Dinos are a squad of Russell Pennock (third at U Sports 2018), Matt Travaglini, Alex James, Eric Lutz and Daniel. They will compete next Saturday at the 2019 U Sports Cross-Country Championships in Kingston. Daniel says that the entire season has been about team work and this has shown in races as their top four guys kept crossing finish lines together, the same way they would run workouts. “Can West was the first time we really raced each other. At the early season races, we wanted to get in a good effort but we weren’t looking to kill each other, so we’d run races in a pack.”

Daniel explains that he has matured as a runner since first year, “We start workouts together and we finish together. When I was a rookie, I’d try to race workouts and I’d be burnt out for the actual races. But now we’ve got a lot of guys who can work out together. It’s cool when you have a pack of seven or eight guys to finish in a pack. It’s a really good team dynamic.”

Photo: Delly Carr/ ITU Media

Daniel has been training with the Dinos men since high school and says that their young but promising program was what drew him to compete for the team at the collegiate level. “Calgary has a good business school and the team was so welcoming and supportive of my running and triathlon that it made sense.” Since then, the team has matured and improved. They finished second to the Guelph Gryphons in 2017, a team that’s had a strong hold on the league for nearly a decade, and then took the win in 2018.

Pictured: Russell Pennock. Photo: Maxine Gravina.

At the beginning of the cross-country season, Daniel would’ve said his goal was to be in the top 14 at nationals, but since his Can West win, he’s thinking that finishing in the top five is possible. This year there’s more on the line for individual runners than just U Sports glory–there’s a national team that will be selected based on the Kingston results. The 2020 FISU cross-country championships are happening in Morocco in March, and Canada will send a full squad. If Daniel can finish in the top five, he’ll be named to the team.

Following the cross-country season, Daniel will take a much deserved break from both triathlon and running before beginning Tokyo 2020 training. Remember, Daniel isn’t only a contender at the U Sports Cross-Country Championships in Kingston, he’s also a favourite to win a little thing called the Paralympic triathlon next summer.