By Trevor Beggs, Now contributor
NORTH DELTA — One year ago, Danielle Kisser had to teach herself to walk again. Today, she is training to qualify for the 2016 Paralympics in Rio de Janeiro.
The 19-year-old Paralympic swimmer is back in the pool after having a double-leg osteotomy in October, 2014. She was confined to a wheelchair until the end of January.
“I slowly had to learn how to walk again,” said Kisser.
Her recovery time took longer than initially expected. According to her coach Kurt Murphy, it took seven or eight months until she was able to swim again full-time.
Murphy said if it were up to Kisser, she would have jumped back into the pool much sooner.
“She’s quite the racehorse,” he said. “We had to put the reins on her, otherwise she would hurt herself again. We had to do a good job of making sure she didn’t re-injure.”
Kisser was born with a growth-stunting disease called achondroplasia dwarfism but that never stopped her from competing in a variety of different sports, including soccer, basketball, softball and horseback riding. Despite standing at just over four feet tall, Kisser might be one of the hardest-working athletes you will meet.
“I just wanted to do everything that everyone else was doing,” said Kisser. “As a kid, my friends all played soccer, so I wanted to play soccer with them.
“I didn’t want to just play, I wanted to be the best, but I would have to find ways to work even harder just to do what they were doing.”
Although she didn’t start swimming until she was 11, Kisser began competing nationally just seven months after getting into the pool. She made the switch from team sports because swimming meant Kisser didn’t need to worry about other people’s work ethics dragging her down.
“When swimming came along, that was a sport where I didn’t have to rely on any teammates to pull their weight,” said Kisser. “If I didn’t put in the work then I wouldn’t improve. I like that aspect of it.”
The surgery has benefitted Kisser in the pool and the weight room. Before her surgery, she was unable to do any weightlifting. Now she is able to work out with her personal trainer and cousin, John Bula, at his Groundwork Athletics gym in downtown Vancouver. Kisser’s work in the weight room has helped her develop from an aerobic swimmer into a power swimmer.
Aside from the gym, Kisser spends 16 hours a week swimming at Sungod rec centre in North Delta.
“Sometimes I’m at the pool more than I am at home,” said Kisser.
It would be easy to believe that she lives at the pool. Her two 5:45 a.m. practices every week present an opportunity to sleep in, since she has two other practices beginning at 5 a.m.
“I don’t think people realize how much work it takes. It’s not like other sports where there is a game every weekend. We train eight or ten times a week for one race every couple of weeks.”
Hard work seems to be engrained in Kisser’s DNA. While many of us are still rolling around in bed, Kisser spends the early hours of the day cutting through the pool with her powerful breaststroke, sporting a swimsuit with a Maple Leaf on the chest, and a swim cap with “Delta” written across the side. She already has the look of an Olympian.
That dream almost came true in 2012. As a 15-year-old, she nearly qualified for the Summer Olympics in London, missing the cut by less than a second in the 100-metre breaststroke.
“It was disappointing, but I wasn’t shocked that I didn’t make it because it wasn’t really what we were thinking about,” said Kisser. “We were just going to experience and to have fun.”
Kisser will compete in a few more races before the Canadian Olympic and Para-swimming trials, which take place April 5 to 10 in Toronto. She will compete in her best event, the 100-metre breaststroke, but also may compete in other short swims.
Kisser won bronze at the Parapan Am Games in 2011, and cleaned up at Western Canada Summer Games in 2011, winning five medals (three gold and two silver).
Suffice to say, making it to the podium in Rio would be one of the highlights of Kisser’s career.
“I think that’s every athlete’s dream, to stand on top of the podium and listen to the national anthem.”