By Connor Beach
A Melville swimmer returned from last month’s Special Olympics USA games in Seattle, Washington with a little extra weight, the weight of one gold and two bronze medals to be exact.
Swimming didn’t always come naturally for Danielle Birnbaum, 26, of Melville. Birnbaum started swimming at the age of three, but several years later she had a near drowning experience that almost cost her her life.
“I almost died,” Birnbaum said.
Despite the traumatic experience, Birnbaum never lost her love of the water. She continued on to swim in middle school and as a member of the varsity team at Half Hollow High School West.
After graduating from high school, Birnbaum just couldn’t give up the sport. “It just relaxes me,” she said.
Birnbaum joined a club swimming team after high school and has had continuous success at the New York State Special Olympic games, winning numerous medals in the freestyle and butterfly events.
It was her success at the state level that earned her a chance to represent New York at the USA Special Olympic games.
“I was pretty shocked when I found out that I was going to nationals,” she said. “I didn’t know that I was going to get picked.”
Birnbaum began an intense training schedule in January that including working with aquatics coach Frank DeGrazia as well as a strength and conditioning program. Even with nearly six months of training behind her Birnbaum was “extremely nervous” as she traveled to Seattle for the opening ceremonies on July 1.
Birnbaum captured the bronze medal in the 200-meter freestyle on July second, and began to gain confidence with two events still ahead of her. On July 5 Birnbaum swam the 400-meter freestyle for the first time in a competition, and, with an entourage of over 20 friends and family cheering her on, she captured the gold medal. Birnbaum entered the pool again just over four hours later to earn her second bronze medal of the trip in the 100-meter butterfly. \
“There were a lot of good athletes, but I enjoyed the tough competition,” Birnbaum said. “It was great because I like to compete.”
Birnbaum, who currently works as a hostess at Zinburger at the Walt Whitman Shops in Huntington Station, said she plans to continue swimming, at least until she turns 30. She said, “Swimming is my life.”