Triathlete Hailey Danz ’13 won silver in the Paralympic Games in Tokyo last summer, after just 10 years in her sport. Through steadfast commitment to her training and resilience in the face of challenges, Danz has cemented her position as a world leader in triathlon.
Danz was diagnosed with bone cancer in her left leg at age 12, and following multiple surgeries and a year of chemotherapy, she decided to have her leg amputated. Always very active, Danz, who grew up just outside Milwaukee, was eager to get back to athletics. She began downhill skiing in her early teens and discovered triathlon as a Northwestern student when she applied for an internship with the Chicago-based Great Lakes Adaptive Sports Association in 2011. Despite having no background in running, biking or swimming, Danz committed herself to the sport, and in 2015 she was named the USA Triathlon Paratriathlete of the Year. The next year she won a silver medal in the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.
Before competing in the Paralympic Games last summer, Danz came out as gay on Facebook and in an essay on Team USA’s website. “Now, for the first time in my life, I’m proud to be gay,” she wrote.
Danz continues to embrace vulnerability on social media. She is honest about her struggles — from the downsides of competing against her closest friends to the heartache of coming in second. Danz believes there is wisdom to be found in self-reflection, and she feels a responsibility to share that insight.
“I think there’s an illusion that elite athletes are untouchable, and we don't go through the same emotions that every other human goes through,” she says. “And that's just not true. I think it is important to know that the lows are there too.”
And when those lows hit, Danz’s teammates — and a commitment to fun — keep her going.
During the 2021 Tokyo Games, Danz and her teammate Kendall Gretsch reviewed the food at the Paralympic Village in a video posted to Danz’s Instagram. Her followers loved it, and the pair have since reviewed other food items — pumpkin-flavored fall offerings at Trader Joe’s and gluten-free Oreos, for instance — often bursting into laughter as they film.
“When I’m happier, I perform better,” Danz says. “When I think about the best memories I’ve had in this sport, very few of them are about the racing or the finishes or even the training. It’s those little moments that I’m sharing with my teammates along the way. That’s what brings me joy, and that’s what I'm going to remember long after this is over.”
Upon returning home to Colorado Springs, Danz took time to process the year she’d had — training during a pandemic, competing without throngs of spectators — but it didn’t take long for her to get back to her sport. She started preparing for a half-Ironman, and in November, Danz won gold at the World Triathlon Para Championships in the United Arab Emirates. “I just really thrive on routine and structure and working toward a goal,” she says. “I’m living in a really cool part of my life right now, and I think one of my strengths is that I’m able to recognize that. We’re in the good stuff right now.”
Most interesting and pleased that NU found it important for alum readership to post.
—Lucinda R. Boyd ’62 MA, Southern Pines, N.C.