Whenever she competes, 12-year-old Danielle Kanas gives it her all.
And that mindset has worked for the Martinez Middle School seventh-grader, who ran, swam, threw and jumped her way to 15 gold medals and six national records this summer at the Adaptive Sports USA Junior Nationals in Middleton, Wisconsin.
Kanas — a single-arm amputee, missing her left arm below the elbow — recently added another achievement to the ever-growing collection of honors in her trophy case.
She received the “Spirit of Excellence” award at the annual Paralympic Sport Tampa Bay Award (PSTB) Luncheon, held Sept. 30 at All People’s Life Center in Tampa.
The club’s highest honor, it recognizes courage, strength, determination and demonstration of a positive attitude as a role model.
Her life circumstances are distinct.
She was found in her infancy at a train station in China.
When sent to an orphanage in the Asian country, doctors determined the circulation in her left arm had been compromised, causing irreversible damage to her left hand and the lower part of her arm below the elbow. Both impaired areas were amputated.
She came from China to the United States as a toddler, settling in New Jersey with her adoptive mother, JoAnne Kanas.
Over the years, she’s received multiple prostheses, as well as occupational therapy beginning at Shriners Hospitals for Children — Philadelphia and now at Shriners Hospitals for Children — Tampa.
Yet, those challenges have not stopped her from living a well-rounded life.
Beyond athletics, Kanas is a “straight-A” student and member of the National Junior Honor Society, a Girl Scout, and patient ambassador at Shriner’s Hospital for Children—Tampa.
She’s also a talented guitar player, who’s served up renditions of the national anthem at various Shriners conventions.
Her advice to fellow amputees is to be ambitious, and not hesitate to try new things.
“Every time you try something new, it’s exciting to see what happens next, and to see what you can improve on,” Kanas said.
The involvement in athletics, meanwhile, elicits a smile on JoAnne Kanas’ face, noting it’s helped her daughter gain confidence over the years.
“It’s just fun to see her. She puts on her game face,” JoAnne Kanas said. “When you watch her compete, she’s serious. She goes out there and tries her hardest. I just like to see her enjoy it.”
Kanas’ favorite event is javelin. It’s clear why: her 19.66 meter throw is a national record — by 6 meters— for her age group in Adaptive Sports.
“I like to watch how it goes far in the distance,” Kanas said. She wants to break 20 meters next season, she said.
Besides the countless victories, Kanas recalls the memorable experience of traveling, for the third straight year, to the junior disability championships, the oldest and largest continuously held competitive sports event in the country for athletes with physical disabilities, ages 6 to 22.
Throughout the July trip, Kanas enjoyed dining out with teammates and excursions.
“It felt good to meet other people. We got to build friendships,” she said.
Kanas, however, isn’t the only local athlete shining in Paralympic sports.
Eric Lowry, a 17-year-old Land O’ Lakes resident, is another.
Lowry, who has spina bifida and competes from a wheelchair, also earned several medals this summer.
That includes a gold medal for his 190-pound bench press, an Adaptive Sports Junior national record.
Lowry, involved with Paralympic Sports Tampa Bay (PSTB) for nearly 10 years, said he recently picked up weightlifting, originally to complement track & field, swimming and archery events.
“I think it all goes together because you need strength to participate against your peers,” he said.
He offers advice for fellow amputees similar to Kanas’ suggestions.
“Try something before you give up, and if you like it keep doing it,” said Lowry, who attends Focus Academy, a charter school for special needs students in Tampa.
Andy Chasanoff, coordinator for PSTB, regularly coaches both Lowry and Kanas.
He said both are models for the program, stressing their positive attitude, hard work, enthusiasm and overall consideration for other teammates.
“They’re not only good athletes, but also they’re great kids,” Chasanoff said.
“They’re respectful, polite, honest. And, they want to be seen as athletes.”
Under Chasanoff’s guidance, Lowry, Kanas and 16-year-old Logan Krepop, of Parrish, led PSTB to its second straight Small Division Title at the national event.
“It’s never been about (the medals). It’s been about doing your best,” Chasanoff explained.
“I ask one question at the end of the meet: ‘Did you do your best?’ If you do your best, it doesn’t matter where you finish. They just happen to be very good, and we’re very humbled by it. But, it’s nice to see, and watch them grow,” he said.
Paralympic Sport Tampa Bay
As a signature program of Hillsborough County Parks & Recreation, the mission of Paralympic Sport Tampa Bay is to promote health, independence and personal growth through sports for people with physical disabilities. Paralympic Sport Tampa Bay (PSTB) is one of more than 100 community-based programs established by the Paralympic Division of the United States Olympic Committee. It provides year round sports and recreation programs that promote physical activity, healthy lifestyles, and recreational and competitive sports opportunities for area children and adults with physical disabilities.
Here are few facts about the program:
- More than 300 athletes participate in at least one PSTB program or event each year.
- Ongoing programs are offered for athletes at all levels, from recreational to competitive elite, in multiple sports such as wheelchair basketball, track and field, tennis, swimming, and archery.
- Periodic clinics are offered, in additional sports such as power lifting, golf, and water skiing.
Published Oct. 11, 2017