As It Happens

Canada's Danielle Dorris fulfils 'lifelong dream' with Paralympic gold, says father

The New Brunswick swimmer has won a gold medal at the Paralympic Games in Tokyo, breaking the world record for S7 50-metre butterfly twice.

New Brunswick swimmer broke world record twice in the same day in Tokyo

Danielle Dorris of Canada celebrates after winning gold and setting a world record (twice) at the Paralympic Games in Tokyo. (Kim Kyung-Hoon/Reuters)

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Even when she was a little girl in swimming lessons, it was clear that Danielle Dorris had a natural talent.

Now the New Brunswick swimmer has won a gold medal at the Paralympic Games in Tokyo. 

Swimming the S7 50-metre butterfly in 32.99 seconds on Friday, the 18-year-old athlete broke the world record — which she had already broke in her qualifying race earlier in the day. It was also her second medal of the Games, having already captured silver in the 100-metre backstroke.

While Dorris was making history in Tokyo, her family were back home in Moncton, N.B., cheering her on. 

Her father J.P. Dorris spoke to As It Happens guest host Peter Armstrong. Here is part of their conversation. 

What's it like to hear the pure joy in your daughter's voice [after she won gold]?

It's amazing to hear her giggling and to see how excited she is about her performance today.

Have you been able to actually connect with her yet?

Not yet. It's been a whirlwind of media interviews for her, media interviews for me, driving my other daughter to Halifax [for university]. 

[There's a] time zone difference. She's in bed. We're awake. So we're looking forward to when she gets up, which is evening for us here in the Maritimes. We'll be able to FaceTime with her and talk to her.

How do you think she's actually feeling?

She's on top of the world, just giddy, and [this is] a lifelong dream that is the first step to many more to come, hopefully.

So this has been a long day for you. Take us back to the beginning, the early hours of this morning. Paint a picture for us. What was it like in the Dorris household?

My wife Wanda, [Danielle's] sister Roxanne, we all got up around 5:30, 5:45 a.m., turned on the TV, and logged onto CBC streaming, and then looked at the previous results to see what was happening.

And then it got very quiet as we were watching the swimmers come out and seeing Danielle come out and getting ready for the swim. 

As the race started, and we saw her surface at the 15 metres with almost a full body length ahead, and then seeing the next thing being the yellow magic line appearing, showing that she was now ahead of her own world record that she had set that morning. The crescendo of sound from my wife, myself and Roxanne, just all three of us, just kept getting louder and louder. I'm pretty sure our neighbours heard us.

The young athlete's family back in Moncton, N.B., gathers on the couch to watch her win Paralympic gold. From left to right, her father J.P. Dorris, sister, Roxanne Dorris, and mother, Wanda Dorris. (Submitted by J.P. Dorris )

When she touched that wall, they zoomed in on the camera on her face. You could see that big smile. And then it was so sweet to watch during the medal ceremony when she was in tears and then she took off her mask to do the picture, and you could really see she had been crying. What's it like as a parent to watch your kid just go through all of that and be so happy?

When she touched a wall and we saw "world record, gold medal," we were just overcome with joy and just happy and smiling and the like.

And then when the medal ceremony took place about 30, 40 minutes later and I saw somebody wearing a red shirt walking by now, and I went, "Wait a minute, is that her coach?"

Because Danielle doesn't have a hand, and when she put on her silver medal, she kind of fumbled with it, and it was a bit awkward for her to put it on and grab the teddy bear and all that good stuff. So I suspect that finding out afterwards, the national team, one of the staff members said to [coach] Ryan [Allen] that he could probably go and put the medal around her neck. 

That's when all of us — well, maybe not Roxanne, because she's tougher than my wife and I — but that's when we all teared up watching that. Because we couldn't be there, but having Ryan there, who has been with her for seven years as her personal coach, was the next best thing.

Dorris in action during her gold-medal-winning, record-setting swim. (Kim Kyung-Hoon/Reuters)

Take me back to the first time Danielle got in the water. Was she a natural from the get-go?

I got posted to Texas in 2008 after my tour in Afghanistan, and my wife at the time was home alone with the girls, because I was on tour.

She was taking the girls to their starfish classes and things like that to learn how to swim. The young instructor at the time at the pool … when Wanda told him that we were moving to Texas, he said jokingly, "Oh my God, you're taking my future Paralympian away!"

Maybe the next future Danielle Dorris or the future Aurélie Rivard is listening to this interview today, and they'll be in the pool and eight years from now, Danielle would be on the deck with them handing over the torch.- J.P. Dorris, father of Paralympian Danielle Dorris 

And that was it. And then she kept taking lessons in Texas, and she was keeping up with all the girls at her age at that point … so it was, like, kind of cool. And then when we got to Ontario, we hooked up with people from the Para movement, and next thing we know, she was making national times within the first couple of weeks.

So at that point, it was like, OK, we've got something here, and let's keep her in the sport as long as she likes it.

What message do you think Danielle's success at these games sends to younger swimmers out there who might be watching?

Everything is possible if you put your mind and your practice to it. And I think the other message is that for people with disabilities, reach out to the various sports organizations, because there is support out there, and there is sport for everybody, and that's what keeps you healthy.

And who knows? Maybe the next future Danielle Dorris or the future Aurélie Rivard is listening to this interview today, and they'll be in the pool and eight years from now, Danielle would be on the deck with them handing over the torch.

Written by Sheena Goodyear with files from CBC Sports. Interview produced by Katie Geleff. Q&A has been edited for length and clarity.

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