By Alison Rogers
“Well…I didn’t drown,” said Daniel Dias, Brazilian Paralympic athlete, when asked about learning to swim. Dias, who was born with malformed limbs, no hands and just one finger, found that water was in fact his natural element, eventually scoring ten Paralympic gold medals and setting 11, yes, 11 world records.
Growing up in Camanducaia – MG, Dias took up swimming relatively late for a professional athlete—age 16. Hisinspiration? Watching one of his fellow countrymen swim at the Athens 2004 Paralympic Games and win seven medals. “I didn’t know about adaptive sports until I saw swimming at the Paralympic Games,” Dias said. He had tried both soccer (“we’re Brazilian, and this is the land of it”) and basketball as a kid, but neither sport stuck. Equipment was a problem and his family had to travel 150km every time he broke a prosthetic. But after just eight lessons, Dias was comfortable swimming in a pool. “People say I started swimming late,” Dias wrote in a post on LinkedIn. “To me, late would be never. I have always done things at my own pace.”
And what a powerful pace it has been. Just two years later, Dias was competing on the world stage at the 2006 IPC Swimming World Championships in Durban, South Africa, even swimming in a 4 x 50m relay with one of his heroes (they won gold). At the same event, Dias also won a gold medal in the 100m freestyle and the 200m individual medley. In the Beijing 2008 Paralympic Games, his first Paralympic Games, he won nine medals (four gold, four silver and one bronze), more than any other Paralympian.