Calgary daughter and dad to make history at Olympics, as female canoeist and trans judge

A Calgary canoeist and her dad are heading to the Summer Olympics in Tokyo next month, and no matter what happens, they will make history.

Women’s canoe/kayak events, previously excluded from the Games, will finally be making an Olympic debut after athletes spoke out about gender equality. Haley Daniels, 30, was among them.

She is now included in the first-ever group of female canoeists set to compete in the Games this summer.

Meanwhile, her dad, Kimberly Daniels, is heading to Tokyo, too — as the first openly transgender Olympic judge.

It’s a path they forged through years of training, a love of sport and enduring support for each other.

“This is something I’ve been working toward for 12 years, and I can finally say I’m going to the Olympics,” Haley told the Calgary Eyeopener on Wednesday.

“[And] I’m proud to go … but I am so proud of my dad, because I think it’s so much harder to go through what she’s gone through.”

Haley Daniels makes her semi-final run at the whitewater course in the Women’s Solo Canoe Slalom at the 2015 Pan Am Games. Women’s canoe/kayak events, previously excluded from the Games, will finally be making an Olympic debut after athletes spoke out about gender equality. (Fred Thornhill/The Canadian Press)

Haley’s journey to Tokyo

Over a decade of practice and competition culminated in the realization of Haley’s Olympic dream. 

Haley has been competing on the International Canoe Federation (ICF) World Cup circuit since 2009, and participated in many ICF World Championships. 

She represented Team Canada at the 2015 Pan American Games in Toronto, where she won bronze, and was an Olympic hopeful for the 2020 Games that were postponed because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

But the moment has finally arrived — Haley qualified for the Olympics at a race in Krakow, Poland, on May 27.

“There were definitely ups and downs, and I would say even two weeks before Olympic qualifications, I was doubting myself,” Haley said. 

“But on the start line, I felt free, and really ready to paddle my hardest. And that’s what I did, and here we are.”

Kimberly Daniels became a certified international official in 2009, and has been working internationally ever since. This July, she will serve as an international technical official at the Tokyo Olympics. (Haley Daniels)

Kimberly’s journey to Tokyo

Through it all, Haley has had her whole family behind her, and Kimberly has supported her daughter’s dream unconditionally.

Kimberly became a certified international official in 2009, and has been working internationally ever since.

This July, she will serve as an international technical official at the Tokyo Olympics.

“I’ve been going to different international events [for over 15 years], some of which Haley’s been at, some where she hasn’t,” Kimberly said. 

“And my role [at the Olympics] is on the course, signaling different gates and working with an amazing team of international technical officials with the International Confederation.”

‘Today, I celebrate my true self’

The Games represent a milestone in Kimberly’s life, too. Before they were postponed last year due to COVID-19, she planned to quietly come out as a transgender woman after they were over.

Instead, Kimberly announced it publicly in September 2020, through a joint celebration with Canadian Sport Institute Calgary and Calgary Pride.

She wrote in a blog for the Canada Olympic Committee that she knew she was a girl trapped in a boy’s body since age seven.

But it was 1960. Trans people were not accepted. And for many years, Kimberly was prepared to guard her secret.

Over the last two years, she felt she did not need to hide anymore.

“Today, I celebrate being my true self as a woman,” she wrote. “Now I feel confident and want to share my secret that has haunted me my whole life.”

Although it was a process, Kimberly said she became comfortable continuing to identify as her children’s dad because she realized that there was no other word that could encompass their relationship.

“If I get called ‘dad,’ people look at me go, ‘He’s a man.’ And I get clocked immediately,” Kimberly said.

“I had to realize it was important for my kids to support me, and me to support them, and to be proud to say I’m their dad.”

‘We’re actually going down in history’

In a characteristic act of solidarity and support, Kimberly came out with her daughter, Haley, beside her.

“We said, ‘You know what, let’s scream this off the rooftops together, and control our narrative,'” Haley said. “And we had the most positive coming out we have ever expected.”

Now heading to Tokyo, the pair are readying to continue breaking barriers together.

“It has been a long time coming,” Haley said. “And I can’t believe we’re actually going down in history.”

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