Daniel Romanchuk gives you a blank stare when you try and explain to him why he is an inspiration. He looks confused — why would anybody care to see him race, legs tucked under him, neck crammed forward, and be inspired? He's just a kid who likes to race.
Daniel, 13, can tell you the name of the disease that robbed him of the use of his legs before birth — spina bifida — but he can't tell you anything about it. It's not important, and he doesn't care.
If Daniel cared about the spina bifida, then maybe he wouldn't have started swimming independently at age 3. Maybe he wouldn't have started at the Bennett Blazers Physically Challenged Sports program when he was 2 years old, training in a range of sports from basketball to sled hockey. Maybe he wouldn't be training for the 2016 Summer Paralympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
"I don't think about my disability," Daniel said with a shrug. He pauses, then grins, "I pretty much just do whatever."
Doing whatever entails events like Celebrating Heroes and other triathlons, a realm in which he has taken part for the last two years. Daniel's mother, Kim, learned about the sport the same way as most in the para-athlete community — through a friend who heard the triathlon was going to become a Paralympic event for the first time in 2016.
Daniel had already been running track and swimming competitively for years, but he was excited to add biking to his training. He qualified for the London Paralympics in track, but he won't make the trip, mostly because he decided he wasn't ready but also because of a new interest in triathlons.
Around this time, he met Robert Vigorito, who has been a role model for one of the newest rising stars of the para-triathlon world. The relationship goes both ways — Vigorito was immediately impressed by the athleticism and work ethic that Daniel showed in the pool the first day they met.
"When I first met Daniel a year and a half ago, he was doing flip turns in a pool," Vigorito said. "I can't do a flip turn — and he doesn't have the use of his legs. When you get to meet someone like Daniel, you realize that they have a chance to do something important."
Sunday, Daniel will be competing in the Celebrating Heroes event, but over the next couple years, racing will take him all across the country in preparation for 2016.
Just don't expect him to understand why that's inspiring.
"This is not a pity party, this is not an anything — this is your life and your reality and make of it what you want," Kim said. "And he's more than fine. He's great."
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