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Canadian Para swimmer Dorris ready for world title defence after reuniting with longtime coach

Who says you can’t go home?

Canadian Para swimmer Danielle Dorris is back in familiar waters after spending last season in a new city and training environment, setting the stage for a title defence at this week’s world championships.

Reunited with her longtime coach, the 20-year-old from Moncton, N.B., is clocking fast times and ready to shine in Manchester, England.

Dorris is the queen of the 50-metre butterfly S7, reigning as the Paralympic and world champion of the event. She holds the world record with a time of 32.99 seconds, set during her gold-medal performance at the Tokyo Games in 2021.

The two-time Paralympian made the move to Montreal last year to train at one of Swimming Canada’s high performance centres, with an aim to soar even higher. The results were still there, with gold and silver at the 2022 worlds in Madeira, Portugal, but she realized her home club and original coach were a better fit for her to thrive.

“The training was a lot different,” Dorris told CBC Sports. “It felt kind of more relaxed than what it felt like at home, which is weird to say because you wouldn’t expect that from a high performance centre. And I just didn’t click very well with some people there, so I think it’s not the environment for me. But it’s a learning experience that I’m happy I did.”

‘I should be quite a bit faster’

While she enjoyed living on her own for the first time and experienced personal growth, she is happy to be back in the environment that helped her become one the best Para swimmers on the planet.

“My hours in the pool were a lot less than what I was doing at home because it took me like an hour to get to the pool every day, and then coming home and everything just took a lot out of my day,” Dorris said. “But now that I’m home, I’m in the water more, I feel better, I’m more fit.

“I’ve already lost all the weight that I gained last year, swimming the times that I swam at worlds last year. I should be quite a bit faster than last year.”

WATCH | Dorris tops podium at 2022 Para swimming worlds:

canadian para swimmer dorris ready for world title defence after reuniting with longtime coach

Canadians Dorris, Routliffe share podium with gold, bronze at Para swimming worlds

1 year ago

Duration 6:40

Danielle Dorris of Moncton, N.B., won gold in a championship-record time of 34.01 seconds, while Tess Routliffe of Caledon, Ont., swam to bronze in 35.40 seconds in the women’s S7 50-metre butterfly event at the 2022 world Para swimming championships in Madeira, Portugal.

Dorris trains at the CNBO Swim Club in Moncton with coach Ryan Allen, who she sees as more of a best friend after knowing him for a decade. She began training with him in 2013 when she was 11, which made last year’s move tough on both of them.

“It was rough. He was sad, I was sad, but we kept in contact the entire year,” Dorris said. “It was different being away from him because he was one of my main support systems, because we have grown from the athlete-coach relationship to just a plain friendship. I could probably call him my best friend.

“It was difficult leaving him, but I knew that if I did ever need to go back, I could easily go back.”

Things have always clicked for Dorris and Allen, with a training chemistry that has been there from the start.

“We began working together and the relationship worked out right away,” Allen said.

Dorris’s move back to CNBO didn’t just mean more hours in the pool, it’s a return to the more personalized approach that allows her to be her best.

“I think the biggest thing is that we developed a very collaborative approach to how we work together,” Allen said. “She trusts me, I really do believe, fully.”

Inclusive environment

Allen also attributes Dorris’s comfort at CNBO to its inclusive environment, with a longstanding priority to welcome swimmers with disabilities. Dorris was born with only a portion of her arms.

“I viewed it as very important for us, and thankfully everyone in our organization was on board,” Allen said. “I unfortunately can’t say the same for that being the case throughout the country, so I do think that we’ve been able to cultivate a very special environment of support and inclusion that’s allowed her to flourish.

“And because she’s been safe and supported, we were able to build a relationship built on trust. I believe that’s continued on to developing excellence.”

The results speak for themselves, as Dorris kicked off this year’s worlds with a bronze medal in the women’s SM7 200m individual medley on Monday, which Allen called her fourth-best event and something they use as preparation.

WATCH | Dorris claims 200m IM bronze in Manchester:

canadian para swimmer dorris ready for world title defence after reuniting with longtime coach 1

Tess Routliffe, Danielle Dorris swim to gold and bronze at Para worlds

16 hours ago

Duration 7:16

Tess Routliffe of Caledon, Ont., won the women’s 200-metre individual medley SM7 event, while Danielle Dorris of Moncton, N.B. was elevated to bronze after Ukraine’s Veronika Korzhova was disqualified at the 2023 Para Swimming World Championships in Manchester, England.

Dorris will defend her 50m butterfly S7 title on Friday, one of three upcoming events on her schedule in Manchester. She will compete in the 100m backstroke S7 on Thursday and the 50m freestyle S7 on Saturday.

Watch live coverage of the World Para Swimming Championships on CBCSports.ca, the CBC Sports app and CBC Gem.

A female Par swimmer takes a breath while swimming the backstroke during an individual medley race.
Danielle Dorris competes in the women’s 200-metre individual medley SM7 final on the opening day of the 2023 World Para Swimming Championships at the Manchester Aquatics Centre in Manchester, England. (Alex Livesey/Getty Images)

Dorris has also enjoyed success in the 100m backstroke, having won silver medals in Tokyo and Madeira, but she will be racing the 50m freestyle for the first time internationally.

Allen expects the debut event to be an exciting finish for Dorris at the world championships, allowing her to do what she does best.

“She’s actually going to do that event as butterfly, because it is a freestyle event so she can swim anything she wants. So by swimming it butterfly, she’s actually going to perform pretty well in that,” Allen said.

WATCH | Dorris wins world championship silver in 2022:

canadian para swimmer dorris ready for world title defence after reuniting with longtime coach 3

Danielle Dorris of Canada captures silver at world para swimming championships

1 year ago

Duration 5:04

Danielle Dorris of Moncton, NB, swam to a silver medal in the S7 100 metre backstroke race at the world para swimming championships in Madeira, Portugal.

But the main focus for Dorris is retaining her butterfly crown and swimming faster than she ever has, to further assert her dominance in the event.

“I want to beat my own record,” Dorris said. “This time I set is very difficult to beat and nobody had ever gone under 33 seconds before. Having done that for the first time, I’m like oh, I need to try to improve that so it gets harder to beat, so that I’m going to be the one holding that record for the longest time

“That’s the more important for me, the medal comes with it.”

Peak form

Dorris is feeling confident, and she has every reason to. Allen said she looked great in her preparation for worlds, with her move back home paying dividends in the pool.

“She’s hitting numbers that she was not seeing since the lead-up to Tokyo, so I think that she’s on a really good track,” Allen said.

“She’s done the work. Across the board, she’s performing excellent.”

Despite her young age, Dorris is already gearing up for her third Paralympics. She made her Games debut in 2016 as a 13-year-old in Rio, where she helped Canada earn a fifth-place finish in the 4x100m medley relay with a Canadian-record time that still stands (5:01.13).

While she had a phenomenal showing in Tokyo, the realities of the pandemic robbed the athletes of the full Paralympic experience. Dorris can’t wait to make the most of Paris 2024.

“I think this is the one I’m really excited for it just because Rio I was so young, I don’t remember any of it. Tokyo was in COVID, so we couldn’t get the full experience.

“I’m excited to experience a full Games of what it should be like instead of being naive and young, or in a time where there’s no fans.”

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