Athlete Stefan Daniel rediscovered his joy of competing and training in 2022 and along the way won his fifth Para Triathlon World Championship title in the heat of Abu Dhabi, UAE in November.
He has amassed an amazing catalog of accomplishments in triathlon and cross-country over the years but considers winning this one special after a couple of frustrating years.
"This one is definitely one of the most meaningful ones, just given how the last couple of years have gone with injuries and obviously COVID was hard on everyone. To get back to who I am was super meaningful. It was probably as special as my first one."
"This year was really about enjoying the sport again and having fun in training. I knew it would be a long year so I didn't try to rush into things too quickly. I'm really happy I made it through the year healthy and was able to finish off a long season with a strong performance."
Abu Dhabi presented the hottest conditions he has competed in over the years. The air temperature was a dry 30 degrees and the water was just two degrees cooler at 28.
To prepare, he trained in a trailer heated to 32 degrees in Victoria.
"I was ready for the heat, but it was a factor, for sure."
He lagged 10 seconds behind his expectations when climbing out of the pool after getting tangled up with a competitor, but a strong ride and run saw him come out on top.
Daniel had pinpointed cycling as a weak spot in his race and has worked diligently to improve in advance of the championship.
"That's kind of the reason why I got beat in Tokyo. Those guys outrode me by a lot, so for the past year, I've been working on that. I became pretty confident I could use that and be able to ride with Martin Schultz, which I've actually never done before, so that was a really big step forward."
Germany's Schultz is a long-time rival of Daniel on the world circuit and at the Paralympics. Schultz won gold in both Tokyo and the 2016 Rio de Janeiro games. Daniel became the first Canadian to medal in the event in Rio, earning silver, before claiming bronze in Tokyo.
He believes the rivalry with Schultz has been valuable for both of them.
"He has pushed me every year to get better, and I'm sure I've pushed him. I don't think we would be the same athletes if we weren't racing each other, and weren't pushing each other all the time. It also makes things more meaningful to be pushed to the limit to win a world title, and I'm sure he'd say the thing about winning gold in Tokyo. It's been good."
He says Schultz isn't the only one bringing the sport to new levels. There are many emerging athletes on the scene and he says the competition is getting stiffer every year.
Looking ahead to 2023, Daniel will be completing his degree at the University of Calgary in December. He was a key member of the Dinos cross-country team before that window closed. He helped lead them to back-to-back national championships but was unable to compete at the nationals in his last year of eligibility due to injuries Still, he believes the whole team has memories to cherish from the experience.
Everything Daniel does over the next year and a half will be done with an eye on the next Paralympics.
"The focus for the next couple of years is Paris in 2024. I'm just trying to build on the year I had, trying to prove that I can have another injury-free year."
He's also starting to incorporate some half-ironman races into his schedule and competed in his first one in September. And, of course, he'll be racing in the world para-triathlete world circuit.
Daniel went to junior high at St. Timothy High School. His athletic journey began at age 8 when he joined the Cochrane Comets.
Born with bilateral radial club hands with his right arm significantly more affected, Stefan began triathlon five years ago after winning national titles in high school cross-country and gaining international experience in para-swimming. Stefan won a bronze and silver medal in his first two trips to the Para-Triathlon World Championships.