News & Stories

Like Mother, Like Daughter

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Two and a half years ago, Special Olympics Michigan athlete Christina Danieli became a mother. While her day-to-day life changed, her love for competitive swimming remained a constant. Many hours spent in the pool strengthened her endurance and her stamina. She learned to maintain a high level of focus and dedication to training, all of which prepared her for becoming a mother to Andrew. Now inseparable, the two cherish time spent together, especially when it’s spent in the water.

“I enjoy everything about spending time with my son,” said Danieli. “That’s what a mother does for her child… For two years, I have been taking him to a toddler swim class. Even if he does not want to compete in swimming, I want him to learn the basics because it could save his life in the long run.”

More than 20 years ago, Danieli tried swimming for the first time. Told she did not have the coordination to swim, her instructor encouraged a transition to the gym class for special education students. Her mother, Cecilia Palen, was insistent that she remain in the general education class. Because of Palen’s persistence, and the support of local Special Olympics coaches, Danieli learned to swim.

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As a high school student, Danieli competed on the junior varsity tennis team. She also earned two varsity letters each in cross country and track and three varsity letters in swimming. Danieli continued to swim all the way to the 2018 Special Olympics USA Games in Seattle, Washington, where she won four medals.

“I learned to swim because a lot of people in the Special Olympics community believed in me,” said Danieli. “A lot of people don’t give a chance to someone with a disability.”

That same community supported her in trying a new sport, Alpine skiing. Her training began on Michigan’s hilly terrain. In April 2024, she would face mountains at the Special Olympics USA Team Trials, in Salt Lake City, Utah. Her nomination to represent Special Olympics USA in the Special Olympics World Winter Games Torino 2025 is a testament to those who believed in her, starting with her mother.

Just as athletes celebrate their medals and personal records achieved, mothers celebrate the milestones reached in their children’s lives. A reflection of her own mother, Danieli advocates for her son’s victories. In competition, and in motherhood, there is training, there is practice. Eventually, the way has been paved for the next generation to follow.