Five-time Paralympic wheelchair tennis player Daniela Di Toro has dominated the court for more than two decades. But Rio 2016 presents a new challenge for a legend of the Australian Paralympic movement, as she attempts to find success on the table in her new sport of Para-table tennis at the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games.
Daniela was 14-years-old when a wall collapsed on her at a school swimming carnival. Having severed her spinal cord at her T12 and L1 vertebras, Daniela was left a paraplegic. A keen sportswoman from a young age, Daniela thought she had no future in sport, until she met wheelchair basketball legend Sandy Blythe while undergoing rehab for her injuries.
With Sandy by her side during her recovery, Daniela was inspired to take up wheelchair tennis, the Para-sport version of the sport she always loved.
Undoubtedly Australia’s foremost female wheelchair tennis player, Daniela burst on the sport’s scene and made her debut for Australia in 1989. Since then she has won nine consecutive Australian Wheelchair Tennis Open singles titles, her last coming in 2008. She has also won the US Open twice and was the Worlds Singles Champion in 1998 and 1999. At her second Paralympic Games in Sydney, Daniela won silver with Branka Pupovac in the women’s doubles and followed up her success with a bronze in the women’s singles at Athens 2004.
Daniela briefly retired from wheelchair tennis in 2005 to focus on her studies in Chinese medicine, but continued to coach and mentor Australia’s brightest young players. Missing being amongst the action, Daniela came out of retirement in January 2007 for the Wheelchair Tennis Super Series as part of the Australian Open – the first fully integrated open wheelchair competition in a grand slam event anywhere in the world.
In 2008, Daniela was Australia’s sole female tennis player at the Beijing Games. Although she was defeated by Dutch champion Esther Vergeer in her first round, she says the Games was an eye opener and the first time she really understood what it meant to be involved in the Paralympic movement. “In the past I’ve always been so caught up in my own competition, I’ve missed out on seeing my friends compete and getting a sense of what people must feel when they’re watching Paralympic sport. It’s extraordinary,” Daniela said.
Since then, wheelchair tennis circles have continued to feel Daniela’s presence on the court. Most recently, Daniela finished her London 2012 campaign in ninth place after battling injuries in the lead up to the Games.
Fully focused on transferring her stardom on the court to the Para-table tennis table, Daniela is on track to compete at her sixth Games. Outside of sport, Daniela enjoys gardening, going to the theatre and live music, listing the Yeah Yeah Yeahs as her favourite band.
In 10 years time, Daniela hopes to be practicing Chinese medicine in a beautiful part of the world, living gently and sustainably and helping people achieve physical and mental wellbeing.