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Having won World Swimming Championship in 2017, Double Gold in Para Swimming World Series, and being a part of three consecutive Paralympics, Daniela Gimenez is a quite a sensation in Para Swimming Fraternity in Argentina, a country hugely popular for football and rugby.
Competing internationally since the age of 14, Daniela is a seasoned athlete now, strong determined character and a dreamer. She looks to leave a legacy behind by winning big in Tokyo Paralympics and inspire the next generation.
In this 45 mins conversation with Cynergy, Daniela speaks in depth about her journey, her plans in life, and how she has overcome her fears in life.
Do read and leave your comments below.
So, when did it actually start for you?
I didn’t really notice where it started from. It was never a planned thing. It just started, the interest developed, and I kept on giving it the time it needed. I didn’t know many people with disability, apart from myself. Just used to swim like every other kid used to. I didn’t have a complete vision of things back then & didn’t know much about Parasports in depth.
Once, I participated in an abled body competition once and the national coach there advised me to go for Para swimming competition. I was just 11 years then and very naïve about things around me. At the 14, I got qualified for Rio 2007 which was huge. It was kind of a reality check for me and marked my career. Swimming against real professionals who are 10-12 years elder than me and competing at a level where age doesn’t matter, made really think if this is really what I want to do in professional life. I was still in high school then, and I got hit by that reality much early in life, which actually me tough as a person.
At around 15-16, in 2008, in Beijing, is when I got an affirmation that this is what I will want to do in my career. To be a professional athlete, you need to be a dreamer and I started working towards my big dream. I changed everything in my life to carry this dream forward.
Made some tough decisions to change my coach, nutrition, therapies, the city I lived in, and everything which revolves around an athlete. Luckily my parents were so cool about it and supported me in all possible ways. They have always been supportive of the initiatives. They will do everything in this world to make me comfortable and happy. That helped me a lot and made me comfortable with every decision in my life.
Had any alternate plans in life, if swimming doesn’t work out?
I never had a Plan B. I was having a lot of fun. It’s hard being an athlete, very stressful, tiring and everything. But I always used to think that I will keep on studying and finish that. I saw some athletes who didn’t even complete their high school due to swimming, which I didn’t like at all. Studies/Education is a priority and should be a priority as that helps us in our sports too. After we retire from our sports, this is what helps us in finding other means in life. Life after sports is still a question mark but will see when I get there. For now, I have to just ensure that I increase my level with every game and retire at the peak of my career.
How about things after your sports? What’s your future plans?
I have lots of fun in what I do. However, injuries are something which is a part of sports and with age it gets tough to recover fast. I look to retire in a couple of years from now and then focus on contributing something in Sports area. It will be another breaking point, a beginning of a new life for me. I am curious by nature, so will continue to learn, explore the world, all the various possibilities and decide what to do. I am excited to think about the life after sports, but don’t have any plans sorted yet. Parasports has lots of possibilities in South America but awareness is lacking so something in the field of Sports Marketing will be a great thing to explore.
In a country crazy about Soccer, how is the people following about Swimming as a sport?
Argentina people are super passionate about soccer. Not many sports have been able to penetrate and find a space here. Money primarily revolves around Soccer. Hence you won’t find many practice facilities etc. for other sports at a professional level. Things have been changing however after Paula Pareto won gold in Judo at the Rio Olympics. Paula is a great ambassador of the sport and the community as a whole and being a woman, she has motivated millions in the country. Judo isn’t a sport which many people understand here, but still she is immensely popular now and awareness has grown. Things are building up; getting there and other sports are slowly getting attention and I will tend to stay optimist about it.
How do you help and support the parasports communities around you?
I am already trying to make people understand about this sport. During our times, we didn’t have much facilities to support. Kids now are blessed with much more awareness, information technology and better infrastructure support. In my interactions with them, I always tell them to feel good about it and never take this for granted. Make best use of it, grow and become a better human being and work hard to fulfil your dreams.
People also expect a lot from government here. However, there is lots of money in the private sector, and they need to spend more on players, infrastructure and support disabled athletes. Currently they aren’t seeing the big picture yet. It’s hard to live life as a disabled person, sometimes even the society doesn’t treat them well so yeah, it’s a collective responsibility which all of us to take and step in at the right time.
Parasports is more than just normal sports and it’s not just about recreation and entertaining people. Parasports can motivate generations, abled and disabled, to extend their limits and achieve their dreams. A targeted marketing will help parasports and increase awareness amongst the people & private companies.
Any role models?
I admire those who have the ability to turn their flaws into their strength. They are really strong-minded people, who are dedicated, hardworking and focused. The struggle doesn’t stop them from dreaming. There is no shortcut to success eventually.
I never, can think of someone specifically. It’s not about just one person. Each one of us have something great in us, which can inspire and motivate people. I like to be around such people and pick a leaf out of everyone. With famous people, you only get to know one side of things, which is not holistic enough to blindly idolize someone in that case.
Staying Balanced. Credit: Instagram
I have known the struggle behind Paula success in Rio. People see the gold in her hand, but don’t realize the amount if sweat and struggle which has gone behind it. More importantly, athletes need to be consistent with their sport, perform better in every game they play, get medals for the country each time they get out to play, else they will be irrelevant soon. These are things always running back of the mind of every athletes and at times can become quite stressful.
What do you appreciate about yourself?
Frankly, I am very hard on myself. I am a perfectionist and kind of always finding flaws with what I am doing. But my perspectives have changed post Covid19. Talking to you and other sports journalists, I realized that I must appreciate myself for the work I have done so far. Going back in time and visiting those moments in life is priceless. We need to appreciate our hard work and pat ourselves for what we have achieved. It’s important to talk, stay vocal about your accomplishments and let the world know about it. It like building your social capital, which stays with you for life.
How are things after lockdown has been eased?
Initially during lockdown, I was little motivated thinking that I will get to spend time on building myself & Tokyo was still happening then. I had a really good 2019 was in a great form.
However, I never thought that this lockdown will continue for so long. I was devastated after Tokyo got postponed. Got a little depressed after that and suddenly that purpose of preparing for Tokyo got diluted. I felt powerless, not in control and that’s not my personality. So, it was like a fight within.
For more than a week, I didn’t do anything literally, not even cleaning my house. I was just complaining about things and trying to get my frustrations out. After a few weeks, I stepped back a bit, realized things and started to respect the situation. I started trainings at home, reading books, watching movies and occupy myself.
In hindsight, it was, however, a right call to postpone Tokyo 2020, but as an athlete you feel bad because those are the moments you are living for. Argentina has had one of the longest lockdowns in the world. There are some exceptions now, and I can train in the pool once a day. Not sufficient, but atleast I can step out, get some sunlight, walk in the park and practice in the pool.
Dani, during her workouts at the nearby Park (Credit: Instagram)
Any corporate or govt. sponsorships?
In Argentina, we get sponsorships depending on the results we have. Mostly it’s from the government side. As per the levels of the athletes, there is a cap and accordingly we get paid. All the travels, accommodations etc. are paid and taken care by the government. If we get medals at big international tournaments, we also get paid and sometimes it’s quite decent amount.
Arena - one of product sponsors for Dani (Credit: Instagram)
Other sponsors I have, are in exchange for the products i.e. Arena for outfits. That helps saves money, as they are quite expensive.
Any other sports, interests you?
I love Surfing. Have been postponing it for sometime. After Tokyo Olympics, I will go surfing.
I did Yoga and Gymnastics earlier too. While I am still continuing with Yoga, Gymnastics is something I won’t be able to proceed now. Laughs...!
Any travel memories which you will want to share
Ah. that’s hard.!
We went on a holiday once post a tournament. My best friends are swimmers from Brazil and Canada. We all, together with their girlfriends, went to Costa Rica few years ago, and it was great fun. Driving ATVs, going through trails, watching those waterfalls, it was such a bliss. Quite memorable, was that trip.
Dani, during her trip in Costa Rica (Credit: Instagram)
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