Since he was two years old, Daniel Romanchuk has been actively participating in programs at the Kennedy Krieger Institute, a Disabled Sports USA chapter in Baltimore, Maryland. Born with spina bifida, a relatively common birth defect that affects the spinal cord, he started playing sports with the Bennett Blazers, the adaptive sports program at Kennedy Krieger Institute, including wheelchair basketball, swimming, archery, triathlon, skiing, table tennis, sled hockey, track and field, and more. “Track and Field came along faster for me than some of the other sports,” he said. “It was also something I could do at home.”
So Romanchuk zeroed in on track, but not fully giving up other sports. For example, he played on the basketball team up until last year. He also swam with the Frederick Area Swim Team, an able bodied program based in Frederick, Maryland. “Swimming provides for some good cross training.” Being homeschooled by his parents, Stephan and Kimberly, afforded him the occasion to participate in these activities.
As a track athlete, he mostly races in the 400 meter and up competitions and road races in general. “I particularly like the middle distance races, like the 800 and 1500.” His first long distance event was the Baltimore Marathon in 2012. Since then, he has competed in several others. “I have done most of the World Majors (the Abbott World Marathon Majors is a series consisting of six of the largest marathons in the world, including Chicago, Boston, New York City, London, Berlin, and Tokyo). This past year, he finished third in both the Boston and London events.
At the Paralympic level, he competed in the 2015 and 2017 World Championships in both the 800m and 1500m. He also represented Team USA at the 2016 Paralympic Games held in Rio. “I thought it was a long shot… I barely made the team,” he said. But it was a great experience and I learned a lot from it.” Romanchuk admits it was a little overwhelming at times. “I decided just to go, get the experience, and have no expectations (in terms of his athletic performance).”
In Rio, as well as all the competitions he enters, one of the philosophies instilled in him during his time at Bennett comes through- “the score is just the score… learn from it and move on.” His family was first introduced to the Bennett Blazers program by another Maryland resident Deborah McFadden, mother of Paralympians Tatyana and Hannah McFadden. The impact Bennett has on athletes is clear. For Romanchuk, he returned this year to help with their track camp. “I like teaching the younger generation and seeing them progress,” he said.
Romanchuk has participated in a number of activities sponsored by Disabled Sports USA and/or DSUSA chapters. Several years ago, he tried out a few sports at an Adapt2Achieve event held at Saint Mary’s College and has skied with DSUSA chapters in Maryland and in Colorado. After the Rio games, he was looking for something else to do. “I was looking for something different than track and field.” He was interested in the possibility of trying out Nordic skiing because of fellow athlete Aaron Pike’s involvement in both sports. BethAnn Chamberlain, US Biathlon Paralympic Development Coach, encouraged him to attend the 2016 Ski Spectacular event in Breckenridge, Colorado. “I had downhill skied before, but this was my first Nordic experience.” He is still playing around with the idea of becoming a dual sport athlete, but that may be down the road a bit.
For now, Romanchuk is concentrating on track. The Mount Airy, Maryland native has relocated to Illinois to not only take some college courses (he is interested in getting an engineering degree), but also train. Awhile back, he realized his times were competitive but needed some coaching to hone his strategy. “I was used to practicing by myself in a rural setting.” This means he didn’t get to practice group racing or fine-tune other components of his racing. He sought out the opportunity to work with Coach Adam Bleakney.
He plans to race in the 2019 World Para Athletics Championships which will take place in Dubai, United Arab Emirates and hopefully medal there. He also has set his on the 2020 Paralympic Games in Tokyo. “I want to at least reach the finals there, and hopefully medal.” Another goal Romanchuk has is to win a World Major, and he has a chance to do that over the next year as well. He did recently break two world records, including one in the 5,000-meter at Swiss Nationals and one in the 800 at the Arizona Grand Prix), but Romanchuk doesn’t give it too much thought. “It’s only a mark. It only means it is the fastest anyone has gone at this point.” But he is always wondering, and striving, to see how low can that number go.
In June, Romanchuk was nominated for the Team USA Best of June Awards, but takes the recognition in stride. “I don’t pay attention to that stuff… I mainly focus on the sport.” He also doesn’t pay much attention to his disability. “It is a fact of life, I can’t change it,” he said. After all, Romanchuk was the beneficiary of another Bennett philosophy: “Teach kids they can before someone tells them they can’t.”
*Article written by Shuan Butcher, Communications Manager for Disabled Sports USA.