Hailey Danisewicz works out two to three hours per day. Her end goal? Rio 2016. But a few years ago she wasn't even practicing the sport she wants to compete in.
The SESP senior has a chance to participate in the first-ever Paralympic Games triathlon.
Danisewicz had an above-knee amputation at age 14. Although she beat bone cancer, several surgeries left her on crutches for two years.
“I figured I would be able to do a lot more with a prosthetic," she says, laughing as she explains why she requested an amputation. "At first they were like, ‘Are you sure? This is kind of crazy.' But you know, once they realized that I had really thought long and hard about it, they were very supportive and it ended up being a great decision.”
Before her diagnosis at age 12, Danisewicz played basketball and volleyball and identified as an athlete. But after her diagnosis and amputation she was afraid to return to the sports she still loved.
“It’s scary to go back to the thing that you once were good at knowing that it’s going to be a lot different,” Danisewicz says.
Although Danisewicz felt like she was a part of a community of cancer survivors, for years she didn’t have a network of people with disabilities. She tried competitive sports like tennis and golf, but none of them stuck. She learned to love skiing as a hobby but still lacked a competitive outlet.
“I think one of the most important things is you’re figuring out what it is that you love and who you are,” Danisewicz says.
Triathlon helped her achieve that competitive goal. It started with a 2011 internship interview at Dare2Tri, a nonprofit organization that now helps 137 athletes with disabilities who are interested in triathlons.
Danisewicz met with Executive Director Keri Schindler, who offered Danisewicz a position on the team and made her promise to enter a triathlon. Danisewicz says it was on her bucket list, but Schindler, as her coach and boss, gave her the drive she needed.
Schindler saw Danisewicz’s potential from the first races she coached her through.
“She beat a lot of individuals even without disabilities,” she says. “You just kind of saw that fire ignite in her and that light in her to want to train harder and get stronger.”
Schindler notes that although many athletes she works with fall in love with the race, it’s rare to see Danisewicz’s level of success so quickly. Schindler confidently says the Paralympics is an attainable goal.
It’s hard to know what Danisewicz needs to do to make it to Rio. Since the sport is new to the Paralympics, athletes don’t yet know how to qualify. But Danisewicz is off to a good start because she’s already re-qualified for the Paratriathlon National Championship this May. She’s already proven herself in the international arena with a second-place finish in last year’s championship.
With graduation, a career and Rio in her sights, Danisewicz says she’s in a great place.
“It’s funny because a lot of people will say, ‘Oh, you’ve been through so much.’ I mean, yeah, I guess, but at the end of the day, I have an awesome life. I have a great life and I love it. I’m a lot more fortunate than most people in the world.”