Massey University business student Daniel Holt’s personal motto is: “No one ever said it was going to be easy, but it’s going to be worth it.”
It’s a phrase that has held him in good stead as he prepares for his first Paralympics at the end of this month.
Born with a condition called albinism, the swimmer only has around one-tenth of the vision of a person with normal sight. He is also extremely sensitive to bright lights, so the sunnier the day the less he is able to see.
“It affects my swimming by making it harder to spot the wall and, at the start of the lap, I can’t really judge my distance into the wall. If it’s an outdoor pool, it’s even worse,” he says.
The condition also creates challenges in other aspects of his life. He can’t drive, and has to carefully plan out walking routes with safe crossings, or organise rides with friends. He says being organised is something he learned from a very young age, and it’s helped out enormously in later life, including at university.
“As a student, at first, I found it a little bit harder. But once you have learnt where everything is, and you have networked with people who are willing to help you, it doesn’t hold you back too much,” he says. “It’s just about working out systems that work for you, whether it’s getting your notes in advance, or just being a little more organised than most people.
“I like the Albany campus. I find it easy to get around, it’s not too big and everyone around here is really friendly. With the College of Business everything is located in one area so it’s only really learning [the layout] of a small part of the University.”
Daniel is a real contender for a medal at the London Paralympics in his strongest event, the 400m freestyle. He came fifth at the 2010 World Championships and believes he has gone from strength to strength since then.
“I’ve done a lot of work over the past few months and my times are coming down, so I am hoping to be extremely competitive over in London,” he says.
London is his first Paralympics, a considerable achievement when you consider he only began swimming competitively in 2007. Eight months after joining the North Shore Swimming Club he competed at the IBSA World Youth Games in Colorado, and returned to New Zealand with four gold medals.
Four years ago, competing at the London Paralympics was just a pipe dream. “I didn’t really think it would be achievable in four years, I was looking more towards Rio. But I put in the extra effort and worked hard, and it paid off. It’s going to be a great Games, and I am really looking forward to it.”
Post-London Daniel says he will take stock and decide whether he will continue swimming until the 2016 Paralympics in Rio de Janeiro. At this stage he would like to, and in the shorter term, he is also keen to get back into his studies.
While graduation is still a long way off, he is grateful for the flexibility of being able to study part-time while pursuing his sporting career.
“I chose to study at Massey because of how flexible they were. I spoke to other universities but I could see that Massey was going to be the most accommodating,” he says. “I’ve formed good relationships with my lecturers so my notes are always there when I need them, and if I need an extension, it doesn’t seem to be a problem.”
Whether it’s competing in the swimming pool or in the world of business, Daniel believes his albinism has given him an advantage because he has developed key life skills at an early age.
“Because you are always being faced with problems, you are used to figuring it out, while others might struggle a bit more. You also develop time management skills because you need to plan your day. You know what you want to set out to do – in sport and life that helps a lot,” he says.
“And when people doubt you, you have to step up and prove them wrong, and by doing that you show yourself what you can do, and it gives you more confidence. Nobody said it’s going to be easy so, at the end of the day, what you get out is what you put in.”
Business student and Paralympic medal hope Daniel Holt, interviewed at Massey University’s Albany campus.