Paddling has been my joy and passion from a young age.

I grew up going on canoe trips with my family and being continually involved in outdoor activities has helped to keep our family close together.

When I first started to compete in paddling, I began with kayak as it is much easier to learn using a double-bladed paddle and sitting in the seat. I later learned about an opportunity arising as women’s slalom canoeing (C1W) was being added to the ICF World Championships and World Cups. I decided to try and compete in both disciplines but found that I was scared of canoeing. However, I knew that if I wanted to get better, I would need to paddle a lot more in a canoe.

I remember sitting down with my parents when we made the critical decision to hang up my kayak paddle for a while and focus on getting better at canoeing. I guess you could say my choice was the right one because I am now on track as an Olympic hopeful for Tokyo 2020 in C1W.

Haley Daniels paddles her slalom canoe through whitewater

Haley Daniels competes in the women’s C1 canoe slalom at the Minden Wild Water Preserve during the 2015 Pan American Games. (Photo: COC/Dave Holland)

My path has not been an easy one. Even though women’s canoeing was added to the World Cup circuit about a decade ago, there was a long wait for the Olympic program to become gender equitable. Since I started whitewater paddling, it has been my goal to go to the Olympics. As I became stronger in canoeing, I became more invested in advocating for gender equality as my sport was not quite there yet.

Along with a dynamic group of a passionate female canoeists from across the globe, we banded together to put pressure on the International Canoe Federation to make our sport gender equal. Fortunately, we were successful and Tokyo 2020 will be the first time any women’s canoe events will be included in the Olympics.

Although this path has been difficult, it allowed me to be a pioneer and part of a movement to leave a legacy for future women canoeists. Whatever the outcome will be for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, I am extremely proud to be a part of making history for women’s canoeing.

 

Family has always been very important to me. My parents have always been there to help me make most of my major decisions. They have also worn many different hats in support of my journey: driver, cook, chaperone, marketing manager, shoulder to cry on, editor, cheerleader, mediator, coach, stop watch, and even a judge on the side of the slalom course for many of my races.

My dad actually became a certified international official so that he could be with me at international events. He even made it to Rio 2016 as a canoe slalom judge and have been selected to be a judge for Tokyo 2020!

2020 has been a big year for my family as we experienced a major transition during a global pandemic. My dad, previously known as Duncan, has come out as a transgender woman who now goes by the name of Kimberly and uses she/her pronouns. There is no manual available to help navigate having a transgender family member. My mantra throughout the whole process is to be open and honest. I only get one family and one dad, so it was natural to support her transition and welcome this journey together.

Haley and Kimberly Daniels smile for the camera

Haley and Kimberly Daniels Photo: Dave Holland

Needless to say, my relationship with Kimberly has changed. Recently, we had a serious discussion about what I should call my new father as we move forward. Although “he” is now a “she”, she is still my dad. My brother and I were both so happy when Kimberly declared she wanted us to continue to call her Dad and she is proud to tell the world she will always be our dad. I have to admit, today I don’t have a conventional mother and father, but I do have two incredibly loving and supportive parents and for that I am grateful.

Telling your family and friends that you are transgender is an extremely scary thing to do and it takes a lot of courage to share something that is still controversial within our global community. The reason we chose to scream together from the roof tops is because we believe it is important to live as our true authentic selves and own who we are.

Once the dust settled from our initial announcement, I was able to take some time to reflect and realize how our stories are rather significant and parallel, even though we did not intend for that to be the outcome. Our family has never settled for mediocrity. We always strive for excellence in everything we do. I have been fighting for gender equality for most of my career and now my dad is a transgender woman.

I hope to be one of the first female canoeists to ever compete in the Olympic Games and my dad may be one of the first transgender women to ever judge at the Olympics.

You might ask why we wanted to share this story. If 2020 has shown us anything, it has presented us the power to overcome adversity, be adaptable and share our vulnerabilities to bring us closer to others. Hopefully by sharing our story we can help to inspire others to live as their true authentic selves.

We can all be a little more compassionate and follow our dreams and passions without judging others. I got to the place I am in sport today because my mom and dad believed in my dream. And now I want to pay it forward by supporting both of them – my mom as she transitions into retirement and my dad as she begins living the rest of her life as a transgender woman. I am so lucky to have an amazing family who support my Olympic journey.

Haley Daniels represented Team Canada at Toronto 2015 where she won bronze in the Pan American Games debut of women’s canoe slalom. She has been competing on the ICF World Cup circuit since 2009 and has participated in seven ICF World Championships. She hopes to qualify for Tokyo 2020 where women’s canoe events will be part of the Olympic program for the first time ever.

Her father Kimberly has also told her story about her decision to transition and live openly as a transgender woman, which you can read here on Olympic.ca