Calgarian Haley Daniels has been competing in high-level canoeing for a decade and has had Olympic aspirations for just as long. But for years, the Olympic Canoe Slalom event has only ever been open to men.
However, after years of fighting for gender equality in the Olympics, Daniels is now a finalist to represent Canada in women's Canoe Slalom in the Tokyo 2020 games. Daniels’ Olympic journey started long before her event was open to women. She has been rowing in Canada for about ten years, and those ten years were packed with hard work.
“Training is quite rigorous. It’s about six hours a day, six days a week, and the stuff that we do on the water requires travelling, and that costs so much.” Daniels says.
Even as she puts hour after hour of work into her craft, Daniels does not lose her passion for it.
“I’ve been paddling my whole life. It’s been something that I’ve fallen in love with.”
The workload hasn’t stopped the sport from being fun for her, but outdated worldviews around her sport become a major roadblock for Daniels’ Olympic dreams.
“It became so much bigger than me when I found out that our sport wasn’t gender-equal.”
Female athletes around the world like Daniels and other activists took it upon themselves to fight for gender equality and fix the situation.
“We had to band together as a collective across the world. It started with letters to [The International Canoe Federation], and it went to a class action suit, but it got dropped right before because they finally made it into an event.” Daniels says.
Daniels’ focus for all of these years has been on building a legacy for herself, her country, and for female athletes. The fight for gender equality takes energy that could go into other things, but she continues to push forward.
“It was a big struggle. It was really hard to be a part of it, but I think that it really helped us break through the glass ceiling and show people that we were at that same point.”
This tough mentality, along with years of training and experience, has the finalist confident that she’ll be calm, cool, and collected if she lines up for Canada as an Olympian.
“I think when you put something on a pedestal, that’s when you start to break and not perform. I’ll be excited of course, and just so proud to wear the maple leaf, but for the most part, I just want to go out there, do my best, and work at what I’ve been working towards for most of my life.” Daniels says.
To give herself an edge for the upcoming Olympics, Daniels has travelled to Tokyo for further training and preparation.
“These are just the lives that we live. It’s life in the fast lane, and we just embrace it.”
After ten years of blood, sweat, and tears being poured into training and getting the event to exist, Daniels says she’s “absolutely” ready to potentially represent Canada in the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.
“I want to represent Canada and build a legacy.”
Haley Daniels's Paddle used in her competitions.
- By Gage Smith and Spencer Yu