Above: “We all have dreams, but in order to make dreams into reality, it takes an awful lot of determination, dedication, and discipline.” Photo by Danielle Caron
As I walked into VIU’s bustling cafeteria, all I focused on was a giant blue water bottle on the table. It looked like a miniature water jug, and as I sat down, its owner, with her hoodie and trademark French braid, took a sip before turning her gaze to my notepad and I.
I knew she did sprint kayaking, but from Danielle Caron’s calm outer appearance, she could have been any type of athlete. No one could have guessed what lay underneath that smile, and how far she had come from her trials and tribulations in the past few years.
I place my recorder between us, and she starts listing all of her accomplishments—the list is so long. I would not have remembered it all.
“My first competition was at the BC Summer Games in Surrey when I was 15 and I won 11 medals. I made the Junior Team Canada two years ago as I placed top five in Nationals in Montreal, and then I competed in the Canada Games and I was the youngest person there that year, at 16 years old—everyone else there was between 18 and 21.”
I am just about to applaud her hard work when her face turns serious.
“I made the Western Canada Games this year, except I had to give my spot away,” she says.
A few months prior to the games, Caron got in a car accident, shattering her clavicle. The timing couldn’t have been worse, as fully healing the bone usually takes four to six months.
“I was working hard and making the best times I’ve ever had in my life. I was going fast enough to do really well at Nationals,” says Caron. True to her nature, Caron wouldn’t give up her chance and tried paddling two weeks after her injury.
“I was determined to go to the Western Canada Games,” she says. “I was totally fine at the time, but when I woke up the next day I couldn’t move.”
Caron conceded that it wouldn’t be fair to her teammates and took to the sidelines. “They wound up winning five gold medals. I was there in spirit, texting them every day. I was very happy for them, but it wrenched on my heartstrings a little bit.”
Now taking a break from sprint kayaking, Caron is still training 26 hours a week and going to school working toward a physical education degree. All that hard work couldn’t have been done without the help and support of her coaches and family, she stresses.
Born with a deformed foot, and having undergone multiple surgeries at the age of 12, Caron persevered despite everything.
“It’s extremely rare and it still affects my sports a lot,” she says. “I went to a Paralympic camp after my surgeries. I couldn’t push with my foot, but I was not declared paraplegic. I met a lot of amazing people at the Paralympics that participated in Toronto and are going to participate in Rio in 2016. I met a lot of people that definitely made me love the sport even more after I had my foot surgery.”
Her foot is actually what led her to sprint kayaking. Having first been inspired by the sport after seeing it on TV, and not being able to play soccer due to her surgeries, she joined a kayaking summer camp, and the rest was history.
In the initial consultation for her surgeries, Caron had been told she could never be an athlete.
“That’s all I wanted to do,” says Caron. “The first thing I told my parents when I got in the car was ‘I’m going to be an athlete, he’s wrong.’”
However, her surgeon, Dr. Penny, fully supported her and gave her the extra boost in confidence.
“I sent him the first medal that I got at the BC Summer Games to thank him,” says Caron.
Her parents were always there for her, going to every competition, or, if they weren’t able to, packing her a lunch.
“They don’t like me being malnourished,” she adds.
Ultimately, it was her coaches that made her work hard and allowed her to accomplish her dreams.
“Ashley Rowe was my first coach who brought me to Nationals and then to Junior Team Canada. I also trained with Jonathan Wengel and he got me to where I was.”
Rowe’s successor, Igor Nikitovic, worked with Caron in preparation for the Western Canada Games, making her reach her full potential before the accident.
With a full course load, training three hours a day and working for her parents at Two Chef’s Affair, Caron shows no signs of stopping.
“The odds were against me but I came along. I did what I had to do. I fought for what I’ve done; I competed hard.”
When asked what she has planned for now, Caron says she isn’t sure what the future has in store.
“I’m not quite sure what I’m training for yet,”she says. “Because when I’m going to do it I want to be able to give it 100 per cent.”