Sports

Swimmer sets sights on podium

Danielle Kisser hopes to qualify for the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio de Janerio.  - Swimming Canada/Vincent Ethier photo
Danielle Kisser hopes to qualify for the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio de Janerio.
— image credit: Swimming Canada/Vincent Ethier photo

As anyone who has competed against Danielle Kisser can attest, the North Delta teen is a fierce opponent.

It was that competitive streak that helped her play her way on to Burnsview Secondary School’s girls’ basketball team in Grade 8 and Grade 9. That might not sound like much of a feat in itself, but in a sport where six-foot-plus players dominate, the fact that Kisser - at just four-foot-one - was able to crack the team’s roster speaks volumes about her character.

Kisser was born with achondroplasia dwarfism. The condition affects one in 25,000. It stunts growth, shortens limbs, and causes deformities in the head and extremities.

But that hasn’t slowed Kisser down, or dampened her drive to win.

Kisser says she had to give up on playing organized soccer because she couldn’t handle how casually her teammates were treating the game.

Five years ago, however, Kisser found her sport: Swimming.

“Yeah, I’m really competitive, with everything I do,” she says. “That’s what I love about swimming. It’s an individual sport, so if I put the work in, I get the rewards.”

As a paraswimmer, Kisser competes in the S6 class against swimmers with similar disabilities.

“It’s an equal playing field,” she says.

Kisser joined her brother’s club, the Sungod Swim Club, in 2008, and soon began swimming competitively, qualifying for her first national paraswimming meet just a year later.

“I was just beginning, and I was going up against people who had way more experience,” she says. “I started getting faster and I caught up to the best people in my category pretty quick.”

In 2011, Kisser was selected to represent Canada at the Parapan American Games in Guadalajara, Mexico. There she won a bronze medal in the women’s 100-metre breaststroke in her first major international competition.

“That was an amazing feeling,” she says. “That’s when I realized I’m right up there with the best in the world.”

This past summer Kisser competed in her first world championship meet in Montreal. Despite having only been a competitive swimmer for barely five years, she finished in fifth place against competitors with 10 or 20 years more experience than her.

It hasn’t been an easy path to podium, however. It’s taken a lot of long hours and hard work. Kisser works with coach Kurt Murphy nearly every spare moment she has. In addition to six pool sessions every week, she also does two dry land training sessions to help build her core strength.

Kisser may only turn 17 in a couple weeks, but the 11th-grader already has her sights set high.

Her next goal is to qualify for the Paralympic games in Rio de Janeiro in 2016. Given she already holds a handful of national records in category, her chances are good.

“I missed out on London by .98 seconds, so that’s my goal,” she says.

Those chances have improved after recently being carded by the national paralympic team. That means Kisser earns a small monthly income so she can focus on her training.

“It definitely makes things easier,” she says. “I don’t have to get a part-time job, so I can focus totally on my swimming, and I can afford to travel to meets.”

Kisser was also recently selected as one of five Canadian swimmers to receive $15,000 in funding over three years as part of the CIBC Team Next program.

In addition to funding, the athletes will receive sport and life skills mentorship from a variety of high-performance athletes, including Josh Cassidy, Mark de Jonge, Stephanie Dixon, Kara Lang, Kyle Shewfelt, Mary Spencer, Bruny Surin and Simon Whitfield.

“My family has been a big support me too,” Kisser says. “They help me look at the positives and stay focussed.

“They drive me everywhere too, which is pretty great.”

We encourage an open exchange of ideas on this story's topic, but we ask you to follow our guidelines for respecting community standards. Personal attacks, inappropriate language, and off-topic comments may be removed, and comment privileges revoked, per our Terms of Use. Please see our FAQ if you have questions or concerns about using Facebook to comment.