Daniel Michel has been selected as the first and only Australian since Sydney 2000 to compete in the precision ball sport boccia at the Rio Paralympic Games from 7-18 September.

Twenty-year-old Daniel was selected to compete at his first Paralympic Games after competing in multiple international tournaments over the last three years against hundreds of competitors from dozens of countries, including the 2016 Boccia World Cup, where he finished sixth.

“The moment I found out I was going to represent Australia in Rio was surreal,” Daniel said. “It was the moment I realised I had finally achieved my ultimate dream of competing at a Paralympic Games.

“It’s a dream that felt a long way away at times, and there were lots of people who said it couldn’t be done, so to achieve it in the face of adversity made me feel so proud and honoured to be representing my country in Rio.”

Born with spinal muscular atrophy type II, Daniel found it difficult to participate in many sports until he discovered boccia.

Boccia is a target sport designed for athletes with severe impairments that tests muscle control and accuracy, demanding extreme skill and concentration at the highest level. It is similar to bowls but played indoors with leather balls.

Daniel first discovered the sport during a camp held by Muscular Dystrophy NSW, and his natural talent was immediately recognised by APC boccia program director and Australian head coach Peter King, who encouraged him to take his new passion to the highest level possible. Two years later, Daniel competed at his first international competition, the 2013 Asia and Oceania Championships.

“I love sport in general, so it was natural that I gravitated towards a sport that gives me the opportunity to play competitively,” said Daniel.

“Playing boccia is the ultimate test of personality and resilience. I believe the skills boccia examines typifies what sport is to me.

“I love to challenge myself and push the boundaries, and boccia allows me to do that in a pressurised, competitive environment.”

Daniel, who is also studying for a Bachelor of Business (Sports Management), is hoping to be the first Australian to win a medal in boccia at the Paralympics since 1996.

In preparation for Rio, Daniel trains for 30 hours a week on the court and spends many hours researching and studying videos of his competitors and devising strategies for each of his opponents.

“Boccia is such a preparation sport, so it is essential to prepare well – fail to prepare and you prepare to fail is my motto,” said Daniel.

“I compare boccia to cricket in the sense that it is a concentration sport. One poor decision could cost you the match in a game of boccia, so you must maintain a very high level of concentration across the 24 balls you play.

“You must also be able to make difficult decisions under immense pressure, where the outcome of that decision could ultimately decide the match – there is not a lot of room for error and you don’t get second chances.”

Ecstatic to be flying the flag for Australian boccia in Rio, Daniel said competing at the Paralympics means the world to him.

“Representing Australia at the Paralympics is a huge milestone,” Daniel said. “The definition of success in my life is based on my performances with boccia. I feel like I was born to play sport and this is the one thing I am most motivated to be successful at.”

Daniel is encouraging Australia to get behind its Paralympians and cheer them to success in Rio.

“Having the full support of everybody back home makes me so proud and motivated to succeed,” he said.

“We would really love every Australian to be invested and love what we do. Every Paralympic athlete takes their job of representing Australia very seriously, and to see and hear the support of the nation just makes us even more determined to win.”

Increasing awareness of the contribution and needs of people living with disability is an important part of the City of Sydney’s role in promoting social inclusion and diversity.

The City has provided $60,000 in sponsorship funding to the Australian Paralympic Committee aimed at helping grow the profile of the athletes and their achievements during the games.

“Being a lifelong Sydneysider, I am so grateful to have the support of our wonderful city and the City of Sydney. Without this support, doing what we do just wouldn’t be possible and I sincerely appreciate it.”