Danielle Kisser is shining her light

Despite challenges, Kisser has created a fulfilling swimming career for herself

Danielle Kisser had always been very athletic as a kid. Before she reached the age of 11, she had played basketball, soccer, softball, and even did horseback riding. However, around that age, she realized that she soon wouldn’t be able to keep up with her teammates and competitors because they were all getting taller, and she wasn’t.

Kisser has achondroplasia dwarfism — a bone growth disorder. The 26-year-old’s condition was diagnosed ever since she was eight months old.

Although she stopped practicing a lot of the sports she used to participate in at 11, she found a new passion: swimming.

In 2008, Kisser attended one of her brother’s swimming practices. After the team’s practice, her brother’s coach — who was involved with paralympic swimming — brought up the sport to her and suggested she attend practice. Although she initially disregarded the offer because “it wasn’t [her] thing,” she ended up attending and quickly started liking it.

“I was good at it,” Kisser said. “It gave me something else to do, a new challenge. Swimming was also something where I wasn’t getting left behind as I was on the soccer field or the basketball court, it was something that I could excel at.”

She also felt like she could be competitive and she liked racing against other people “just like [her].” 

Anyone who has a disability can participate in para-swimming, but there is a classification system with 14 levels to ensure athletes are competing against people who have similar abilities. Levels one through 10 are assigned to athletes with physical disabilities. Levels 11-13 are for those with visual impairments and level 14 is made up of people with intellectual disabilities. Kisser competes in the sixth level.

It took her two years to make her first national team. In her 15-year-long swimming career, she also got to compete in the 2020 Tokyo Paralympics.

“It was like a dream that I’d had for 13 years at the time,” she said. “It was my third time trying to make it and then finally it worked out. I made a final there with a relay.”

Nonetheless, competing without a cheering crowd due to COVID-19 restrictions was a strange experience for Kisser.

“The whole experience was crazy and racing in an empty stadium was a challenge,” she said. “But getting to fulfill [my dream] was all I could ask for.”

Swimming has been one of the most consistent things in Kisser’s life. Being this active and training up to 10 times a week has been beneficial for her.

“My health and well-being is just so much better now because of being fit and being able to walk for long periods of time,” she said. “A lot of people with dwarfism, they have back problems, knee problems, just like different body issues. But for me, being able to be so physically fit and active has been very helpful.”

For Kisser, being in the water also contributes to her mental well-being.

“It’s a place where it doesn’t matter who you are, what you’ve done, what you look like, or what people have said about you,” she said. “It’s just there and you get to decide what you do with it. For me, the water is there to support me if I just want to swim. It’s there to propel me forward.”

And forward she went. She was able to represent Canada in multiple international competitions.

“I’m so grateful that I’ve been able to pursue it for as long as I have,” Kisser said. “This led to so many cool opportunities. I’ve met some of my best friends swimming.”

But it also led to some of her biggest challenges. Kisser went through several injuries, concussions, and other hardships. Nonetheless, she said that it shaped her and that this experience remains her “greatest gift.”

Four years ago, Kisser also started her own YouTube channel, called This Little Light. As she was comfortable in front of cameras, she wanted to document her life and share her experiences. Recently, she has been documenting her swimming endeavours.

Mainly, she wants people to know that they all have a light to shine and an opportunity to make the world brighter.

“The way that I shine my light is by showing people what it is like to live with a disability, letting the young kids who have dwarfism know that life is going to be OK. This is what you can do,” she said.

After 15 fulfilling years of swimming, Kisser is now contemplating retirement, as she will also be graduating from Concordia University with a double major in linguistics and theology. She said she’s excited about life after swimming and taking the lessons she learned from her career elsewhere.

“I kind of checked all the things that I want to do,” she explained. “I’ve been to every major competition that you can go to and I’m satisfied. The biggest thing for me was realizing I didn’t need another Paralympics or another medal to feel like a better person.”

According to her former coach Mike Thompson, who is also the head coach of the national team, Kisser will have left a long-lasting mark on the team.

“She’s had such an influence and an impact on the national team, this centre, and the way we do things right now,” Thompson said. “I’m really impressed with where she’s at and happy with what I’ve been able to be a part of.”

Kisser is looking forward to revisiting all the sports she once loved as a kid, but one thing she will never stop doing is shining her light.


Mac Miller, Circles, and the art of the posthumous release

The late rapper’s estate successfully delivers a carefully crafted and complete posthumous effort.

The posthumous album is one of the most conflicting listening experiences any music fan can have. The motive behind the release isn’t always clear: the music might be unfinished, the quality may be lacking, and you can’t help but think about whether the artist would have wanted it released. Musicians put their life into their work, and in the unfortunate event that they pass, who their music is left to can majorly affect their legacy––either positively or poorly.

In September 2018, Mac Miller tragically passed away at the age of 26, leaving the music world in shock. His impact on hip hop was enormous, as he played a pivotal role in shaping the landscape of the genre through the 2010s. In using his platform to bring light to many up-and-coming artists, Miller played a major part in the budding careers of Vince Staples, Earl Sweatshirt, and many more.

While his platform helped to give these artists exposure, they also helped him find himself musically––throughout his career, Miller showed an astonishing level of growth. With each project released, he moved further and further from being the youthful stoner that was trying to fit into archetypal hip hop traditions laid out by his influences. Towards the end, Miller was working towards creating a sound and style that was entirely his own.

With 2016’s The Divine Feminine he took a chance, releasing a full-length project that relied on his singing as much as his rapping. Infusing neo-soul instrumentation with modern hip hop, the release’s sound was fresh for Miller and showed his desire to evolve as an artist. This was doubled down on with the release of 2018’s Swimming, leaving behind his neo-soul influences for a more varied and eclectic soundscape. These two projects showed Miller heading in a direction less concerned with fitting in, and more concerned with personal and artistic growth.

Circles builds off of the foundation laid out by these two albums and on Miller’s legacy while taking his music in a slightly different direction. Serving as a companion album to the aforementioned Swimming, producer and multi-instrumentalist Jon Brion worked to complete what he and Miller had started. The result is a mesmerizing album, that is extremely melancholic, yet instrumentally lush and gorgeous, and features some of Miller’s most personal writing and best singing.

While Miller isn’t a classically trained vocalist, that had always been a part of his charm. His ability to capture the emotions present in his lyrics through his limited vocal range humanized him as a singer and makes him more relatable. It’s less a spectacle of ability and more about being able to feel what he conveys vocally.

Lyrically, this album sees Miller painting a picture of a man who is not only dealing with his personal struggles but optimistically accepting them as part of his life and trying to move on. The theme of Circles, however, appears to be his acknowledgement of the cyclical nature of his struggles, and how they keep coming back around. At times, despite Miller’s seemingly optimistic view, he speaks on his own personal downfall as an inevitability, which is heartbreaking to hear in the wake of his passing.

It’s apparent that this was an album that was well on its way to completion when Miller passed. There is a clear vision here, a cohesive soundscape throughout, and consistent lyrical themes that bring the project together. The album plays like one last goodbye from an old friend—a long, warm and bittersweet hug from somebody that you’re not quite ready to let go of yet.

This is where this album shines; and where many posthumous albums fall short. In recent years, with the unfortunate passing of several young artists, we’ve seen a lot of posthumous releases that seem like nothing but a cash grab. XXXTentacion’s last project, Bad Vibes Forever, was a colossal mess of a project. At 25 tracks long, it was bloated with features and filled with incomplete song ideas rather than fully fleshed-out tracks. The artist’s vision and fan enjoyment were secondary, with the primary concern being maximizing streaming revenue.

In the case of Circles, Miller’s estate has given an example of how to handle the music and legacy of an artist after they’ve passed. It is an album with very little promotion, it’s free of gimmicks or radio-ready singles, has no big features, and the sound isn’t all that familiar for fans. It’s a complete, concise and focused artistic expression of a man who is seemingly learning to accept his internal struggles and grow from them. The album pulls no punches creatively, and that’s what makes it so special.

Circles feels like the full realization of the sound that Miller had been trending towards for a few years now. It’s brilliant, beautifully arranged and emotionally gripping music that gives us a glimpse into where he was mentally, prior to his passing. It’s very apparent that Jon Brion and Miller’s estate understood his vision, and they’ve clearly worked very carefully to bring it to fruition and carry on his legacy. As hard as it is to say goodbye, this is a superb send-off for one of the most important and impactful rappers of this generation.

Rating: 9/10

Trial Track: “Blue World”

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Competing to save lives

A sport made for versatile athletes ready for new challenges

Invented in 1891 by the Royal Life Saving Society of England, lifesaving is an activity that really gained popularity with the creation of the Royal Life Saving Society of Australia in 1894.

The organization was first developed to ensure public safety during daylight bathing on the beaches of Sydney, Australia, according to the country’s Royal Life Saving Society. Volunteers gradually created patrol groups that taught lifesaving, as well as first aid training, to look after the increasing number of imprudent Australian bathers.

In the beginning, lifesaving was not a sport but rather a strong rivalry between the more ancient Australian lifesaving clubs, such as the Bronte Surf Life Saving Club, and the Bondi Surf Bathers’ Life Saving Club. The rivalry is what turned lifesaving into a competitive sport, according to Irish Water Safety. With the creation of the Surf Bathing Association of New South Wales (SBANSW) on Oct. 10, 1907, nine Australian clubs and affiliated associations organized official competitive lifesaving events. Later in the 20th century, lifesaving clubs emerged in other parts of Australia and around the world.

Records of lifesaving events in Canada date back to 1894, when Arthur Lewis Cochrane taught his lifesaving skills to students of the Upper Canada College in Toronto, according to the Canadian Lifesaving Society. Following that, lifesaving started to spread in Canada and, in 1904, the Royal Life Saving Society of Canada was created. Since the 1930s, the society has hosted many lifesaving sport events and, today, the Canadian Lifesaving Society hosts its own national championship.

What kind of a sport is lifesaving?

As a sport, lifesaving is an educational activity that mixes first aid training and athletic techniques. There are two main types of contests: pool and beach events.

Pool Events

Pool events are mainly swimming events, but they differ from traditional swimming competitions because obstacles, like mannequins, and flippers are involved. Mannequins represent the upper body of a person. They are one metre long and filled with water. The goal for the athlete is to dive, grab the mannequin and drag it a given distance.

Obstacles are underwater barriers that go 70 centimetres below the surface. They are often positioned in the middle of the pool. Athletes have to dive under an obstacle every time they reach one.

Flippers are feet extensions that a swimmer puts on to increase their speed. There are 11 trials in a pool lifesaving event, including the 200m obstacle swim, the 100m mannequin tow with flippers, and the 4x50m medley relay.

Beach events

Beach or open water events have trials on land and in the water. They combine reaction, running, stamina, swimming, surf skiing and board paddling. A total of 16 trials comprise a beach event. Trials such as the surf race, the beach sprint or the board race test athletes’ different abilities.

The main attraction of a beach event is the Oceanman/Oceanwoman race. It combines all the requirements to be a beach lifeguard in one race. Beach events also have unique trials such as inflatable rescue boat (IRB) events and surf boat events. Beach events are often more spectacular as there are natural elements involved such as wind and waves.

One final event that is common in both pool and beach events is the simulated emergency response competition (SERC). It’s a two-minute event that tests the lifesaving skills of a four-athlete team through simulated emergency situations unknown to them in advance.

Points in beach and pool events are awarded as followed: the relay teams and individual athletes placing among the top 16 in each trial earn points for their club. The club that earns the most points wins the event. At the end of a pool or beach event, the top three teams or athletes of each trial are also awarded medals.

Why should you join a lifesaving club in Montreal?

Lifesaving is a very interesting sport because it is not only physically demanding, but also a useful activity where you learn actual life-saving techniques. In this sport, a good athlete is a good lifesaver, therefore, lifesaving diplomas are mandatory. So, if you’re looking for a physical sport that could lead to a useful and interesting diploma and job opportunities, lifesaving might be for you.

As a Concordia student or a Montrealer, you live in a city that is home to many lifesaving clubs. Within an hour of Concordia’s downtown campus, you can reach no less than six clubs in all parts of the city and surrounding areas. These clubs all provide weekly classes, from beginner to experienced levels. As a student, it could be an interesting opportunity to test your physical capacities.

The lifesaving diploma and first aid training will always be useful in your everyday life. Not only will it teach you to calmly help people in urgent situations, this training will also give you the opportunity to work as a lifeguard at a pool or beach. Overall, lifesaving can make you a versatile athlete, a good lifesaver or both.

Main graphic by Alexa Hawksworth

Lifesaving clubs in Montreal:

Le Club de Sauvetage Rive-Nord (CSRN) in Laval

Sauvetage Sportif 30-Deux in Ste-Julie

Club Aquatique du Sud-Ouest in St-Henri

Club Aquatique de l’Est de Montréal in Hochelaga-Maisonneuve

The Rouville Surf Club with a facility in Hochelaga-Maisonneuve and Ahuntsic-Cartierville

Club les Piranhas du Nord (CAPN) in Ahuntsic-Cartierville

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