When Danielle Dorris travelled to Brazil in 2016, she became Canada’s youngest ever Paralympic swimmer at just 13.
Five years later in Tokyo, the Moncton, N.B., native has made history in the women’s 50-metre butterfly S7, winning gold while breaking the world record twice in a day.
“This one (the gold) means so much more,” she said, on a post-race internet interview. “Fly is very much the event that I love the most, so being able to medal, let alone win gold, is very special to me.”
The Club de natation Bleu et Or product came out flying in the morning heats, setting a new world mark with a time of 33.51, 0.30 seconds lower than American Mallory Weggermann’s former record.
After a midday nap she returned to the pool and lowered the global record again, posting a remarkable 32.99, becoming the first S7 swimmer ever to go under 33 seconds.
“I’m very happy. I was not expecting to go that time,” she said. “I was hoping for a 33 low, I’ll take the 32 high. It couldn’t have gone better,” she said.
Dorris won her first career Paralympic medal on Monday, taking home the silver medal in the 100-metre backstroke S7. She also finished fourth in the 200-metre individual medley, later in the week, finishing five hundredths of a second off the podium.
After competing at such a young age in 2016, the Moncton, N.B. native has more perspective and appreciation for what she accomplished this time around.
“I hardly remember Rio, I was too young there, so I don’t remember much. I think I’m definitely going to remember this one with the two medals that I got, I think it really made it more memorable, and having the opportunity to have my coach present me my medal tonight for the 50m fly was very memorable as well,” she said.
Dorris was also able to take in more of the Paralympics outside of the pool in Tokyo. When asked what she would tell her 13-year-old self now she gave some insight into how her experience at the Games changed from five years ago.
“In Rio I didn’t leave my room at all other than to go to the pool,” she said. “I was very nervous, didn’t make a lot of friends, now I have a lot of friends, I got out of my room got out of my shell so I definitely would tell myself, just to get out of your shell and go have fun.”
Dorris leaned on her coach Ryan Allen throughout the competition, and was extremely excited to have him there in person. Despite their extremely close relationship she still shocked him when she asked if he would present her with her medal.
“I surprised him with that moment, he did not know I was going to do that, after my swim I was like ‘You’re going to come put my metal on me’, and he said tearing up,” Dorris said, on a media availability Friday.
The emotion from her coach presenting her with her medal combined with the spectacle of the Canadian anthem being played moved Dorris to tears.
“I was definitely crying. I can say that much, my coach had presented me with my medal so that had already gotten me crying, so during the anthem it was just a ball of tears.
“I was very proud and very emotional. But I was very happy as well, also I think relieved that everything is finally done, the games happened, and I get to go home and sleep,” she said.
Coach thrilled, and surprised
Allen echoed Dorris’ emotions, originally believing she was joking when she asked.
“I had to turn around and look the other way because I was hit with emotion . . . not all the athletes are able to have that opportunity so to be able to share that with her was extremely cool,” he said, Friday.
Throughout the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic Dorris, like most Canadian swimmers, had to radically adjust her training to adapt to the closure of pools.
She had a Swim Spa in her backyard so that she was able to work throughout the winter, and would tether herself into her pool and train there. She was later able to return to her club facility and train with her peers in Moncton, not letting the occasional shutdown ruin her preparation.
“I think out of everybody’s situation, I feel very lucky with what I was dealt. I was able to very much use a lot of things to my advantage.”
Dorris has been vocal about her desire to inspire fellow East Coasters to invest in and participate in Parasports, and feels that the success of her and her teammates will go a long way to inspiring the next generation of athletes.
“I think being able to do what I did here is definitely going to inspire some young future para athletes to join the sport or whatever sport they might choose, and I think giving them hope, that them having a challenge won’t impact them for being successful if they don’t believe that,” she said.
“I truly believe anyone can be successful if they put the hard work into it. So I think having me as an example will definitely help those children who are thinking about joining, maybe take that leap.