Rio update: Daniel Michel

Back to blog10 months ago by Jodie
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Dan, Ash and Ken at the Rio Paralympics
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At just 21 years of age, Daniel was the first person to be selected to represent Australia in Boccia at a Paralympic games since 2000.

With the support of Cerebral Palsy Alliance’s Boccia crew cheering him on from the sidelines, Daniel and his sports assistant Ashlee McClure proved their mettle in a …

At just 21 years of age, Daniel was the first person to be selected to represent Australia in Boccia at a Paralympic games since 2000.

With the support of Cerebral Palsy Alliance’s Boccia crew cheering him on from the sidelines, Daniel and his sports assistant Ashlee McClure proved their mettle in a tough first round before being defeated in round 2 by the world’s number 3 player and seasoned Paralympian (Rio was his fourth games), Gregorios Polychoronidis, from Greece.

Daniel’s hunger for success has grown and he has immediately started analysing his results to ensure he has a shot at becoming Australia’s first Paralympic gold medallist in the sport.

“I was a bit unlucky in some areas but we are most definitely on the right track, and hopefully in the next tournament I play, I’ll get a better result,” he said.

“It was my first Paralympic Games. If anything, the result made me hungrier for Tokyo. We think we can do better every time we play, so we’re feeling alright moving forward.”

Cerebral Palsy Alliance’s Peter King who was in Rio watching and guiding Daniel’s Paralympic debut said,

“This was Daniel’s first Paralympic Games. He was  beaten and the better player on the day won. However, Daniel will return to the Paralympic Games in Tokyo and beyond. This was a great “first go”, and we are all very proud of what he has achieved.” 

Before Daniel and Ashlee left for Rio, we sat down with them for a chat to hear what they did to earn their spot on the Aussie team.

Here’s an extract from our earlier ‘Road to Rio’ story.

For Daniel, the road to Rio stems back as far as he can remember. He has been a sporting enthusiast his whole life with a dream that one day he would compete at an elite level.

“My ambition ever since I was really young, since before I could remember, was to play sport competitively. I (recently) viewed a home video of when I was four years old. I was watching a game of football on television and I was right into it,” he said.

As he watched that home video Daniel realised that his passion for sport was something he always had, a familiar part of his being. “I’ve always been a keen sports follower and it’s in my blood.”

Daniel had resigned himself to channelling his love of sport through supporting his two younger brother’s sports endeavours. Then, by accident, he found Boccia.

“I initially thought it would be one of the sports I wouldn’t be able to do, and I’ve tried lots of sports in the past like wheelchair rugby and soccer. Basically you name it, I’ve tried it.”

“So when Boccia came along, I was keen to watch and learn because I hadn’t heard of it before. All of a sudden I realised that straight off the bat this was a sport I might be able to do. I got behind the ramp, started playing and was like, hang on, this is actually possible.”

“It was like I’d been liberated. It was a weird feeling because my mind was opened to this new possibility, something I thought was never possible. In a split second the impossible suddenly became possible.”

Cerebral Palsy Alliance’s Sports Development Manager Peter King and his team first noticed Daniel’s potential at a local sports camp Boccia program. “Peter was talking about how it was a Paralympic sport, and I thought this is a real opportunity for me.”

“When Mum picked me up on the last day Peter told her ‘your son has potential’, he could do really well.“

“For the first 12 months (following the camp) I bought a ramp and a set of balls, and did a bit of training at home. I went to a couple of junior titles and did pretty well – I came third in my first competition and took first in my second attempt.”

“That motivated me to do more training. Then I competed at the State Titles and National Titles and came fourth at both events.”

“This first National Titles competition is still one of the most positive experiences I’ve had in Boccia. It was so exciting to be in an elite sporting environment.”

“That week spurred me on. I trained really well, got a new ramp and my determination grew. Boccia is the one thing that I’m most motivated about in my life.”

For Dan, his sporting assistant Ashlee was a big part of his preparation and success. 

The pair were introduced after a chance meeting when his Mum was asking around for a sporting assistant.

Ashlee had just returned to Australia after a six month ski trip to Canada for her Grandmother’s 100th birthday.

While home, she was working casually as a support worker at an accommodation centre. At the end of her first shift she took a moment to say goodbye to her manager, who just happened to be speaking to Daniel’s Mum. She explained the situation to Ashlee, who is a keen sportsperson and can often be found on the AFL field.

“Ashlee said she would give it a go and started training with me a couple of days a week. We competed in the Asia and Asiana Regional Championships that year and were hooked.”

Since then, the pair trained together for five days a week at Cerebral Palsy Alliance’s Allambie campus under the watchful eye of our Boccia trainers. 

“Ashlee is as invested in this adventure as I am. We both really wanted to compete in Rio,” Daniel said.  

“To be able to win there are a couple of things you need; perfect equipment – the ball and ramp have to be really good, and a strong focus on the fundamentals when training – the different shots, the calibration and all that sort of stuff.”

In the lead up to Rio, Dan and Ashlee spent hours perfecting their game, analysing their potential opponents and even attended an elite training camp in Hong Kong.

“We directed our training at very specific games we were going to play. For example, we decided to do the entire Rio walk through so we could play each game against simulated opposition; we tried to get as close as possible to the games that people would be playing.”

Daniel also spent time mentally preparing for the big competition.

“When you are trying to do your best and competing at an elite level it’s tough to back yourself all the way because you do realise at times you are playing against the best players in the world,” he said.

“That thought can play in your mind, you get caught up in it and you do think am I really good enough to be here.”

“It’s something that you struggle with all the time, and I think it’s just a matter of staying in the present and making sure that you do the best that you can.”

“And that all comes down to your preparation..”

“You’ve just got to go out on the court and play one ball at a time and do your absolute best with your playing and the results take care of themselves.”

“That’s kind of the way that I look at it.”

“Those thoughts of doubt will always be there but you have to let them come and go as they wish and make sure that when you are on the court you are doing your best with every ball, Daniel said.”

For more information about Boccia at Cerebral Palsy Alliance contact Peter King or Stacey Foster

Picture: Ashlee McClure and Daniel Michel with Cerebral Palsy Alliance Sports Educator, Ken Halliday