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Saturday, Jun. 24, 2017
Dr Steve Daniel: Surmounting Perpetual Challenges
2016-03-28
by Randy Pascal

It’s January 3rd as I sit down with Steve Daniel, and I’m leery to broach the subject of New Year’s Resolutions with him. Given the challenges that the 41 year-old Sudbury native has tackled and conquered, God only knows what 2016 might have in store.

“I’m not big on New Year’s Resolutions,” says Daniel with a smile. But he goes on to add that his singular goal this year, truthfully, is to compete at the Invictus Games in Orlando in May, the multi-sport competition opened to those who have served their countries, but returned home having to deal with life-altering injuries.

For those who call Sudbury home, the story of Steve Daniel is generally well-known, or at least the opening few chapters. Enrolled in the military at the age of nineteen, the graduate of Levack District High School served four tours of duty before suffering a spinal injury during a parachute training jump in 2005.

Just three short years later, Daniel was a member of the Canadian Paralympic team bound for Beijing, competing in rowing. And while he may have dropped from the spotlight upon his return, it certainly was not for lack of more mountains to climb.

In June of 2015, Daniel graduated from the Northern Ontario School of Medicine, these days making the rounds in the area as he continues his post-graduate residency. The option of not reaching for the stars simply never crossed his mind.

“In the military, much of my experience was doing tough and challenging courses, from the time I was nineteen, and into my thirties, so that just became a way of life for me,” Daniel stated. “Some of the things you do in the military are very physically and mentally challenging.”

Just not on the same scale that he was about to encounter. Before long, his uncertainty concerning living with a disability gave way to opportunities to which he had never had reason to give much thought to.

“The first year after the injuries, for me, was the most challenging,” said Daniel. “But throwing myself into sport early, through programs like the Canadian Armed Forces “Soldier On program, the Canadian Paralympic movement, were critical in terms of my rehabilitation. I credit sport with getting me through the rough patch.”

What started as a gateway to physical activity quickly blossomed, with Daniel identified by the national paralympic rowing team at the 2007 Indoor Championships. A year later, the 2008 Paralympic Games in China provided a wonderful transition from one segment of his life to a different phase altogether.

“It was not that difficult to walk away from Paralympics,” recalled Daniel. “Training as a paralympic athlete is incredibly demanding, and I was already in my early thirties, and was feeling the wear and tear of the training.”

Yet it was the friendships that were struck, through others in similar situations, that provided the springboard to medicine, friendships which included a wheelchair racer from Team USA, just finishing up her medical degree at Stanford.

“I kind of picked her brain for a lot of the questions I had, in terms of just how do-able is medicine in a wheelchair,” said Daniel. “Those defining experiences led me to medicine.”

Approachable and engaging, the new doctor was also quite grounded as to the obstacles that stood in his way. “I think everyone who gets accepted to medical school has a little bit of self-doubt, initially,” Daniel conceded.

“We just took one thing at a time, and I’m a pretty resourceful person, so I kind of relied on my imagination a little bit in tackling some of the problems with my physical limitations. And I also had some recommendations from friends.”

Over and above the Invictus Games, Daniel has his sights set on setting up a family practice in Sudbury, hoping to sub-specialize in sport medicine. “I’ve always been interested in physiotherapy, in health in general,” he said.

“There’s always been that interest there for me. I really like the idea of treating athletes, especially high level athletes.”

Sounds like enough to keep him busy – at least until next New Year’s Eve.

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