Tosan parathlete heading to international competition
World-class triathlon offers new challenge
Hailey Danisewicz isn't going to let anything stop her from following her dream of being an athlete, even her above-the-knee amputation.
The 21-year-old Wauwatosa native lost her leg at the age of 14 after a battle with childhood cancer. The amputation stopped her from being an athlete until three years ago, when she began running triathlons. Danisewicz won silver in a national triathlon competition last April and will be flying to New Zealand on Oct. 15 to compete on an international level.
"This will be my first one (international competition) and for the last couple of months it's been very surreal," she said. "A couple of weeks ago it finally clicked, and I've just been taking these last few weeks to get my mind in the game and have the right mentality going into it. What's unique about this race is that I'm not going just for me anymore. I'm going to represent my country."
Support of a team
She is one of four competitors from the Chicago-based club Dare2tri who are going to New Zealand. Dare2tri works with athletes at all levels of performance who have disabilities. The club was founded in 2011 and members have competed internationally ever since.
When Danisewicz came in for an internship with Executive Director Keri Schindler she took her first step on the road to triathlon competition. Competing in a triathlon was requisite for the position.
"We got her fitted with a running prosthetic, and she started training," Schindler recalled. "In July of 2011 she crossed her first finish line and was hooked ever since."
Melissa Stockwell, Danisewicz's mentor and race partner, also is an above-the-knee amputee. She lost her leg after an improvised explosive device blast in Iraq and has won two paratriathlon world championships. Stockwell won gold at nationals.
"She really, throughout all of this, has been a huge source of inspiration for me," Danisewicz said. "Seeing all the things that she accomplished made me believe that I could do the same thing. She's been a great supporter of me and has taught me most of what I know."
Training knows no mercy
The Dare2tri team will be in New Zealand for two weeks. The team received money for their hotel from USATriathlon, the national governing body for triathlons and paratriathlons. Dare2tri had to raise the rest of the money to cover flight expenses, training and equipment transport. The club raised more than $40,000, more than enough to cover the event. They will use the leftover money to send their team to nationals next year.
Paratriathletes train with their able-bodied peers six to seven days per week with about two workouts per day. This year's world championship is the largest paratriathlon ever, with more than 3,000 athletes from 45 countries competing.
Danisewicz has separate prosthetics for running and biking and wears no prosthetic for the swimming portion of the race.
Being an athlete defined Danisewicz before she lost her leg and she continues to identify as an athlete. She plans to graduate from Northwestern University in Chicago in June and then focus on her athletic career, hoping to compete in the 2016 Paralympics.
She said she can't go a day without running.
"Life goes on. In the moment it can be really hard to think past what you're going through. It can be hard to imagine a life after all the hardship. I think that everything happens for a reason and there is something out there that your hardships will lead you to and change your life," she said.
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