Daniel Kowalski is unlike any other swimmer. He has shown a remarkable ability to ride out adversity and still produce extraordinary performances. At age 16, he missed selection for the 1992 Olympic Team when he finished third in the 1500m freestyle. Later that year he developed glandular fever but came back from illness to win his place in the 1993 Pan Pacific Championships – he finished 2nd to Kieran Perkins in the 1500 metres, 800 metres and the 400 metres Freestyle events.
In December 1993, Daniel was Australia’s sole distance representative at the inaugural World Short Course swimming Championships in Majorca, where he won gold in the 400 metres and 1500 metres Freestyle events.
One month before the Commonwealth Games trials in 1994, Daniel contracted a viral infection that destroyed his final preparation and left him expecting failure. Instead, he stunned Australia, not to mention Kieran Perkins – by beating the Olympic champion over both the 400 metre and 1500 metre freestyle events – and broke the 15-minute barrier for the first time.
Daniel had just turned 19 when he swam a personal best time in Rome, at the World Championships. Before the race he had been violently ill with food poisoning, and was still suffering acutely when he swam. Despite this, his silver medal swim behind Kieran Perkins was the fourth fastest time of all.
Daniel’s courage is now legendary. After moving to Melbourne he concentrated on preparing for the Atlanta Olympics. His coach felt he was stronger after enduring the trials of the past few years and his exceptional performances at the Australian Swimming Championships finally gave Daniel his clear run to Atlanta, where he walked away with more medals than any other Australian – a silver and two bronze.
In 1997, a serious shoulder injury kept Daniel out of the water till about eight weeks before the World Championship trials. Again, with such a limited preparation, he was not expected to qualify for the team. He confounded everyone, including himself, by qualifying for the 4 x 200 metres relay and the 1500 metres Freestyle, where he came home with two medals – a gold in the relay and a bronze in the 1500 metres.
In 1998 Daniel was appointed a Sporting ambassador for the United Nations. It was in this capacity that he visited some refugee camps on the Thai/Cambodia border. Daniel rates this as highly as any of his sporting achievements.
Daniel qualified in the 4 x 200m relay team for the Australian Team for the Sydney 2000 Olympics again so determined to swim despite missing a lot of training due to shoulder surgery earlier in the year. Another gold medal was added to his list of accomplishments when the 4 x 200m relay team won the final in Sydney.
In 2004 Daniel was asked to be the mentor for the Australian Swimming Team heading to Athens and was a commentator for 2GB (Sydney) and SEN (Melbourne).
Daniel spent two years on the organising committee for the 2007 World Swimming Championships in Melbourne. During this time he worked in the Marketing department whilst during the actual Championships he was the main point of contact for all visiting teams.
On completion of his contract with the World Championships Daniel found himself singing live on National TV every week with famed Australian songstress Kate Ceberano in Channels 7’s popular variety program “It Takes Two." He lasted on the show for seven weeks, with all proceeds going to Beyond Blue, an organisation aimed at educating the greater public on depression.
In July 2007 Daniel chose to go down a different path when he took up a post as Assistant Swimming Coach at the University of Wisconsin. It was an extremely valuable learning experience but when a call from Channel 7 came asking him to be the pool deck interviewer for the swimming at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, Kowalski decided to forego his second year of the contract, 100 inches of snow during winter with -60 degree temperatures and head back Down Under.
Professionally since October 2008 Daniel has been working as an athlete career and education adviser to Victoria and Australia’s elite athletes at the Victorian Institute of Sport. In more personal news Daniel chose to announce his sexuality publically as a gay man. When coming out Kowalski said ‘As an elite athlete and career education adviser, day to day I work with athletes promoting balance in their lives and being true to themselves. I can't help but feel like a hypocrite when I haven't been doing it myself.’
Daniel was an excellent speaker, very engaging, very interesting and would highly recommend.
Federation University Australia
Thanks again for joining the Amex team Daniel and for your authenticity when sharing your experience. Good luck with the career journey! Vice President and General Manager
American Express International Payments
Very professional, well prepared and a great speaker on a difficult topic for him - that reading is better than sport. He really stole the show.
Fun 4 Kids Festival
Daniel was FANTASTIC! Engaging, witty, funny - he took our clients on quite a journey. He is a true champion with a great story that everyone who has ever doubted themselves can relate to - a truly wonderful person!
The function we had Dan speak at was primarily an industry social function to mark the end of the year. Hence we sought a sportsperson, specifically one with an interesting story to tell. The feedback we received from those attending indicates that we certainly achieved this goal. Dan clearly connected with our dinner guests. Dan’s down-to-earth manner and humorously honest description of the pain, glory and disappointments that made up his career was a refreshingly welcome antidote to the egos and chest beating of many contemporary sportspeople.