Paralympic Rower Dani Hansen Is Prepping For Paris 2024: “If Team USA Needs Me, I’ll Be There”
At POPSUGAR Play/Ground, Paralympic rower Dani Hansen was having a less workout-heavy day than she usually does – she was demoing the Hydrow, an at-home rowing machine, for event attendees and helping them try it out themselves. On more typical days, she’s either ramping up to train for a potential 2024 Paralympics appearance or leading live workouts as her job as Lead Athlete for Hydrow.
Hansen first competed in the Paralympics in 2016 at Rio de Janeiro, where she took home a silver medal (in legs, trunk and arms mixed four with coxswain), and again in 2020 at Tokyo, where she also took home a silver (in PR3 mixed four with coxswain). She’s hoping for another chance to take home some medals for Team USA – as she said, “Third time’s a charm, right?”
Hansen has Erb’s Palsy, which she said can sometimes be invisible to others. “The world is very much set up for the average person, and the average person is not usually disabled,” she told POPSUGAR in between demos at Play/Ground. “A lot of people do have disabilities that you can’t see. It makes me feel like I’ve become a more empathetic person because of that, because everybody has something they’re working on, whether it’s a disability or something else you can’t see.”
She also chatted with us about what the ramp up to Paris 2024 looks like, what she’s looking forward to when she turns 30 this year, and what her own perfect day off would look like.
POPSUGAR: What’s your general routine like day to day right now?
Dani Hansen: Well, kind of hectic right now, because I just moved. I would say I go in a lot of walks, and I’m gearing up to train for Paris. So I love filming days, because I get a free workout in without having to think about it. When we film workouts, those are my workouts for the day, because I get to plan them myself, and it’s just really fun to coordinate and be on the water with everybody.
But yeah, generally, I wake up, have some breakfast, and go for a walk. I love walking. My workout routines are: I stretch, I walk, I meditate, and I row. Those are the things I do to keep healthy. So as long as I fit those four things in the day, I’m good. But I do need to do a better job at scheduling meals.
PS: And what does the ramp up to Paris look like for you?
DH: I am a very mental athlete. I studied psychology, communications, and sociology, so I really apply a lot of psychological things into my training. So right now, I’m working on reentry in the training space – getting back to fitness. That can be kind of difficult sometimes, because it can be very easy to be like, “I need to be better than I am.” But for everyone getting back up to training level, it’s going to be bumpy, and that’s OK. So being in that phase right now, I like to put my focus on training details. Little things that are going to help me get that 3 percent compared to my competitors – so meal planning. That’s a habit you need to build. Getting to sleep on time. Little habits, little details – that’s what I really like to focus on when I’m in this ramp-up phase. It’s nice to feel productive. It’s like, yes, I’m training, but I can put my mentality into this portion that’s going to set me up for success throughout the training. I’m building a foundation.
PS: What moments from the last two times you were at the Paralympics stand out to you?
DH: The first time I ever went to the Paralympics in Rio, I remember going into the Village for the first time, and it was just very, very overwhelming in a very positive way. There are all these athletes with varying levels of abilities from all over the world. It’s literally a whole village of people who have these adaptations for doing regular things, so in the cafeteria, people are helping each other a lot. And then meeting people who have the same thing as me from other countries was very cool.
“They literally sacrificed everything to make sure the athletes had what we needed.”
And then when I went to Tokyo, it was amazing and also completely nuts because of COVID happening and everything. The pivot that Japan had to do! I will say the hardest thing about Tokyo was not having your family there, and I feel like the volunteers who worked in Tokyo – it could make me cry, because it was like they knew that we needed a little bit of extra support. So all of the volunteers were like family for us. They literally sacrificed everything to make sure the athletes had what we needed. It was like, these are the heroes.
PS: As you said, getting into the mentality as an athlete is so important, and then also the emotional support. So give me a little bit more background in terms of what you do for your mental well-being.
DH: Well everyone says that you don’t go to the Paralympics alone. There are so many people who help one person get there. I have four sisters, I have two great parents. They’re a big support system for me, mentally, emotionally. My friends – even my Hydrow coworkers, like when I went to Tokyo, they were so supportive. Helping me and making sure they covered any work I needed.
But mentally, I just meditate a lot. I go on a lot of walks. Sometimes I’ll purposefully move as slow as I can. Because I love thinking about this – in rowing, if you can do something slowly, you can do it fast. But you have to be able to be patient enough to be slow. That brings a lot of awareness and purpose to your body. Rowing is supposed to be very simple, but it’s really easy to complicate. So when you do something really slowly, it’s easy to see any extraneous movement or catch, like, I don’t need to waste energy there.
PS: So you’re turning 30 this year . . .
DH: I am turning 30! How blessed am I that I get to be alive that long.
PS: So what are you hoping for in the next decade?
“If Team USA needs me, I’ll be there.”
DH: Well I hope I get to Paris. I’m trying. I was like, “Should I try out for Paris or not?” And I was like, you know what, if I can make it and it be additive and help the US win a medal, I’ll do it. If I try out and someone else comes in, and they’re faster than me and they beat me and they help the US get a medal, that’s good, because I’m rooting for the US. So I’m rooting for whoever’s fastest. I’m excited. And if Team USA needs me, I’ll be there. But if not, I’m glad that other people are faster. Because I just want the program to keep leveling up.
PS: And obviously today is people’s perfect day off. So what does your perfect day off look like?
DH: Like I said before – I love a walk. If I can take a walk, I’ll take a four-hour walk. I live in Boston, my whole family lives in California, so I’ll be on the phone, catching up with everyone. I also would need to have some good food – I’m a big food person. I love pretty food. I love healthy food. I love tasty food. So if it’s all three and I’m getting that on my day off, I love it. And then I love a good spa night, like skincare, hair care. Self-care is so important. It’s about putting energy into yourself so you can put more energy out into the world.
This interview has been lightly edited and condensed.