Back in 2018 Special Olympics Stafford lead volunteer Clive Gibson could see immense potential in the athletic ability of Rugeley-based athlete Daniel Mills. So much so that he suggested that they take on a triathlon.
Whilst he initially felt unprepared and didn’t recognise his own ability, the idea of a swim, cycle, run challenge had clearly planted a seed in sprinter Daniel’s mind.
The covid pandemic and the misfortune of dislocated knee and a blood clot sadly blocked Daniel’s subsequent ability to participate. However, in August this year Daniel took on the challenge as he and Clive successful navigated a 750-metre open water swim, a 22-kilometre bike ride and a five kilometre run in the Superhero Triathlon at Dorney Lake, Windsor.
“Daniel has been part of Special Olympics Stafford’s athletics club from the age of seven,” said his Mum Carena Mills. “He was struggling for acceptance at the time, but it’s been transformational for him and everyone in our Special Olympics West Midlands network is like extended family,” she added.
“It’s allowed me to be me and enjoy taking part in sport with my closest friends.”
As an athlete used to participating in sprint events, such as the 100 and 200 metres, taking on a triathlon would require a mammoth training effort.
“I didn’t feel ready previously but this year I thought, you only live once,” said Daniel.
Having called Clive to give him the good news, the pair soon plotted out a training plan that could support the journey to Dorney Lake.
“Daniel knew that he could manage the swimming distance in a pool with the comfort of reaching the end of a length,” said Carena. “He had never experienced swimming amongst fish and ducks though, so he joined Pillaton Open Water Swimming Club in Penkridge, Staffordshire.
“The club were brilliant in accommodating him and they all recognised what great progress he was making each week.
“He was also able to build up his long-distance running relatively quickly by going out road running with Clive. It was cycling that was always going to the biggest challenge.
“Daniel had barely ridden since for the last 10 years and so we had to get a new bike to support this part of his training.”
Daniel said: “The last time that I cycled was with my grandparents. I knew that I needed to get much stronger to complete the 22k ride at the Superhero Triathlon, so Clive encouraged me to get some hills into my training.
“I also joined a local gym and started training regularly with a friend to build up my conditioning. I would get on the exercise bikes, get a few kilometres on the treadmill and also do a few weights so that I could feel myself getting stronger.”
The Superhero Tri is an annual event for people with disabilities who can compete individually, as a unified pairing or as part of a relay.
“Because of his commitment to his training, Daniel got over the finish line and looked like he had barely broken a sweat,” said Carena. “We’re all so proud of what he achieved after a tough couple of years.
“The pandemic came at such a difficult time for him as he entered the final year of his education. His injuries then kept him out of sport for such a long time, so it’s been wonderful to see him exercising again and getting his confidence back.
“He’s grabbed this triathlon experience so who knows what it could lead to.”
Daniel is an incredibly active Special Olympics Great Britain athlete who does aqua aerobics, swimming and visits the gym twice a week in addition to his Saturday athletics sessions with Special Olympics Stafford.
“Having completed one triathlon, I’m very keen to do another,” said Daniel. “Clive and I plan to do the Southport Triathlon together in May next year. However, my dream would be to represent Team Special Olympics Great Britain at a World Games.
“Before that though, we’ve got the Special Olympics West Midlands Indoor Athletics Sports Hall Event, which is always a great competition to be part of.”
Taking place on Saturday 18 November at Fenton Manor Sports Complex, Stoke-on-Trent, Special Olympics West Midlands will bring together 160 athletes to compete in multiple athletic events, including obstacle relays, individual runs, standing long jump, javelin and more.
Additionally for Daniel, he’s working on the development of his business Made by Dan, which supports his passion for craft and upcycling by customising items such as drinks holders, plant pots, jars, glasses and a variety of products.
Learn more on his Made by Dan Facebook page with all funds raised being donated to support Special Olympics Stafford.