(L-R) Allysa Seely, Hailey Danz and Mohamed Lahna train in the High Altitude Training Center at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo.
Hailey Danz is already a Paralympic silver medalist in paratriathlon, having finished second at the Paralympic Games Rio 2016 in the sport’s debut, but two years on and she’s making new moves to push herself one step higher.
The 28-year-old from Milwaukee recently became one of four elite paratriathletes named as part of the first-ever USA Paratriathlon Resident Athlete Program at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado. The program formally began on April 1 and also includes Paralympic gold medalist Allysa Seely, Paralympic bronze medalist for Morocco Mohamed Lahna and Howie Sanborn, all of whom are training under coach Derick Williamson.
“This resident program is going to be a huge game-changer for the U.S. and is really going to level the playing field in terms of the resources we get compared to other countries,” Danz said.
Danz, who contracted bone cancer at age 12, was part of a U.S. podium sweep in the women’s PT2 classification — for ambulatory athletes with a severe degree of activation limitation — at the Rio Games. She’s also a six-time world medalist and is coming off a fourth-place finish at last year’s world championships.
But with the success of the sport as a whole at its first Paralympic Games, so comes an increased athlete field and elevated competition for the next Paralympic cycle.
That’s why Danz actually moved to the U.S. Olympic Training Center last October after spending the previous eight years training in Chicago, where she started the sport at the Dare2Tri Paralympic Sport Club, founded by teammate Melissa Stockwell. It’s already paid off for Danz, who won gold at March’s CAMTRI Paratriathlon American Championships in Sarasota-Bradenton, Florida, and silver at May’s ITU World Paratriathlon in Yokohama, Japan. She’s now ranked No. 1 in the world in the PT2 category this season.
“I just needed a change, and from a training perspective Chicago had a lot of logistical challenges, and so I’ve made my life a lot less stressful by coming out here,” Danz said. “One of the biggest changes has been just having a coach on deck every day for the swim. I have not had that opportunity in the past. It’s really helped me with my technique and my stroke.”
Between the swim, bike and run, paratriathletes already have an abundance of logistics to handle simply due to the nature of the sport. Having nearly every resource in one central location has been key.
Danz now lives just a three-minute walk from the pool, no longer needs to hop in her car to find a bike route and has access to a state-of-the-art gym, dining hall and experienced support staff — including a sports psychologist, sports doctor, physical therapist, nutritionist and chiropractor — on a daily basis.
“For me, one of the biggest challenges in my sport before I moved here was figuring out what to eat after a workout,” Danz said. “You finish a workout so exhausted and then you still have to make a meal. I think I wasn’t always eating within the best window or eating the best things, so having the cafeteria right here has made things a lot easier.”
It is the fifth Paralympic resident sport program to call the Colorado Springs facility home and will remain in operation at least through the Tokyo 2020 Games. The program is funded by USA Triathlon, making residents’ living expenses extremely low. Athletes taking part also have the chance to receive media training and take part in local community engagement and service opportunities.
“This program is something that’s been talked about for years and it has finally come to life,” Danz said. “I’ve always wanted to be able to train with a squad, as I knew that would help me as I know I thrive really well in group environments.”
Danz’s transition in terms of her training regimen has been pretty seamless as Williamson was also her coach before, and as shown by her performances already in 2018, the altitude training has skyrocketed her competitive edge at sea level locations.
She’s next scheduled to compete at the Franciacorta ITU Paratriathlon Series in Italy on Saturday, with the biggest day circled on her calendar this season being Sept. 15, when she’ll be competing at the ITU World Triathlon Grand Final in Australia.
She definitely misses her parents and three sisters back in the Midwest, but she’s hoping the move pays off by the time the Tokyo 2020 Games roll around.
“We’re definitely hoping to repeat that sweep,” Danz said. “But the order might change a little bit, who knows …”