By Haley Daniels (as told to Katherine Dolan)

I don’t fit in the box of a traditional high-performance athlete.

I am on the Canadian National Team for Canoe Slalom but I make time to cross-train, go mountain biking, skiing, hiking and spending time with friends. For me, those moments are just as important as training because they help me to be happy, feel fulfilled and not have blinders on.

Right now, it’s hard not to live with blinders on, as it is a daily struggle on the road to the 2020 Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo. Don’t get me wrong, I am living my dream, but it is a daily grind because I have fought so hard to get the chance to compete at the Olympics and I won’t know until next year whether I get the one available spot, to represent Canada.

Let me explain.

My name is Haley Daniels, I am 28 years old and I have been involved in canoe and kayak since I was 14. I started on a kayak, but quickly moved onto the canoe.

When I first started canoe I felt one with the water. I am in Tokyo right now where everything is Mario Carts, so it’s like those arrows in Mario that when you jump over them, you get a boost. I feel the same thing when I am on the water. There are places on the river where you can get a boost if you get the right angle or paddle stroke. I remember doing it for the first time and feeling so free, knowing that was just where I needed to be. It felt right.

As I started to move up the ranks in canoe slalom in Canada, I realized that women had a lot less opportunity at canoe than our male counterparts. You see, men have access to funding, access to the Olympics, access to Canadian Sports Institutes, basically, all of the sport supports in the country whereas I, a female had zero access to any of that or any of the grants available.

At this point, I really loved being involved and I was on the Canadian National Team. I was allowed to go to World Cups, World Championships as well as National Championships, but I wasn’t allowed to go to the Olympics, because women’s canoe slalom wasn’t yet a sport at the Games. It was then, that my love for the sport grew and became about more than just loving the sport. It became more about advocating for breaking the glass ceiling through sport.

In 2010, all the women canoeists from mostly English speaking countries came together and agreed that it just wasn’t right. We began pushing for gender equality by writing letters to all the major sporting committees and advocating to anyone and everyone who would listen. We got the media involved and put pressure on the IOC and the International Canoe Federation. We were ready for Rio but the IOC had their feet in the sand so they didn’t include us in Rio, but they finally did for Tokyo.

It’s been a long push, but now it’s equally exciting and scary. I really hope that I am the one who gets chosen to represent Canada at the Olympics in Tokyo but the story goes even further.

Seventeen nations will compete in canoe slalom, so only the best of the best, the elite. But only one person per country, per category is allowed to go. On the Canadian National Team, there are two of us, myself and Lois Betteridge who are both equally qualified to go and compete. But it can only be one of us.

It is a daily routine calming myself and trying to be the best version of Haley so that I am not focusing on anything but what I can control. Lois and I travel together, train together, compete against each other and share accommodations. We are in the same car and we share sessions so it’s difficult to get out of each other’s heads.

But this is the sport I love, the sport I signed up for and I’ve been fighting for this spot for 10 years. Either of us could be chosen, so I just plan to focus on what I can do and hope it works out.

Through reading my story I hope young athletes will understand that barriers will always be there in any sport you choose or any part of your life. There is always an opportunity to get around those barriers, so don’t let it be your end game. Yes, my goal is Olympics but if not this cycle then the next.

The things I’ve seen, the things I’ve learned, the people I’ve met, it’s all a part of the learning process. I look at who I am now and it is exactly what I was as a young person. It just took me a while to find it but now I have found it. And I am exactly where I want to be.

See you in Tokyo, hopefully!