At 16, Daniel, born with malformed upper and lower limbs, watched the Paralympic Games on television. He saw Brazilian Clodoaldo Silva set four world records and win six gold medals plus a silver medal in swimming events for Brazil.
He wondered if maybe he, too, could represent his country some day. That year, Daniel took his first swimming lesson. In eight lessons, he had learned all four strokes and became a proficient swimmer. Within a year, he began competing internationally, representing Brazil.
Daniel Dias, a 26-year-old, two-time Paralympian swimmer from Brazil, now holds 10 world records and has won 22 medals.
We asked Daniel to tell us about what obstacles he faced in becoming a Paralympian. Here is Part One of what he said:
Daniel, you've spoken openly about some of your struggles and how people reacted to you while you were growing up. Did people treat you differently because of your disability? If so, how did you handle that?
Without a doubt, when I started school I was the different one, for having the disability. So the children would look, and I would feel embarrassed. I was called names – moments that really hurt – I would arrive home crying many times, and it wasn’t anything easy. It was then that God gave a lot of wisdom to my parents. My mom and my dad would talk a lot with me, and I made a choice in my life: I chose to be happy. And this choice changed my life.
You have also expressed that you've wondered why God made you this way. Did you ever feel angry with God about it?
Yes, I wouldn’t say just one time, I would say [many times I felt angry with God]. Adolescence is a [time of interest in] girls, and so it was a very difficult moment in my life to understand [why I was born like this]. And we will only understand through being sincere with Christ and through the Word of God bringing comfort. He showed me that if I had two hands, or if I was a complete person, I would [not] be better or worse. I think that it isn’t this that defines us. I think that what defines is inside each one of us.
Why did God create me like this? I think it was simply His will. So who am I to question it? I have to live for Him – be a channel of blessings here, to be light like Jesus was.
Many times I asked Him, “Why?” But today I ask, “What for?” I think that through my many conquests I am beginning to understand for what reason God made me like this. Principally, it is to serve Him and to be here as His disciple. This all will go away, but the love of Christ never goes away. And it’s this that we have to show to others. The love of Christ never will fail in our lives. At the end of everything, we will meet Him and will praise Him at His side. This will be an incredible moment.
You started to swim 10 years ago when you were 16 years old. You have dozens of medals, the most records in your classification, and you are compared to Michael Phelps who said that you are one of his favorite athletes. How do you deal with success, and how has this messed with your faith in Christ?
Well, first I want to say that I’m more attractive than Michael Phelps (he quips). But I am happy to be compared to a great athlete like him.
I think that success can jeopardize us in our walk with Christ. But I praise God for the parents that I have and for the family that I have, for always reminding me where I’m from and who I am. And I made the choice to have Christ in my life: I chose to be happy, I chose to live for Him. All this is happening because He is in my life.
I always look to remember and say that it’s not me, but Christ who lives in me. We can never forget this, because without Him we are nothing. People say, “You are always smiling, you never complain in any moment, you win everything.” It’s not me, it’s Christ. Everything in my life, everything – without one exception – in my sports life and in my personal life, is Christ.
What would you say to inspire and encourage athletes with disabilities and difficulties who are just starting to compete?
Well, I would say we shouldn’t place a limit on realization and capacity in our lives. And first is to have faith in God, determination and perseverance, that one day, besides the sport, He will help us be champions in our lives. Not all will be medalists or represent the country in a Paralympics. It’s more than that. Instead of complaining and crying, they can make the choice to be happy and choose Christ.
What's your greatest battle?
One of the greatest fights and difficulties of my life was when I began to swim. I had all the support, I even joke that I had a sponsor who was my dad, who paid for everything. My dad had to pay for bus fare for all the days and pay the club for training. It was then that I thought, “Is this really what God wants for my life?” I had to understand how we [individually] and as a family have to be dependent on Christ. His Word tells us to seek the kingdom of God and everything will be increased (Matthew 6:33). [I had to understand] from the start, [that God was saying to me], “Go and get it, because I’m with you.”
What has helped you the most that you can pass on to others?
Well, I think that the choices we make in life make all the difference. Like when I chose to be happy in Christ, each one of us can make this choice. With Jesus in our hearts, we are happy. Christ is joy. God is a loving Father who is just, a Father who is faithful, who won’t cheat us. He’s not a man to lie, the [Bible] tells us this. I think that with a smile I can show to many that Christ lives in my heart.
Compiled by Kathleen Kaiser Harl and Tim Pitcher. Interview by Patricia Monteiro and Shawn Keith.