For Danielle Campo-McLeod, life has always been about beating the odds.
Whether it was defying expectations to become a gold medal Paralympic swimmer or surviving a near-death experience after the birth of her third child, the 38-year old Tecumseh native has overcome more obstacles than most people encounter in an entire lifetime, many of them playing out in the public eye.
Now, as she continues to adapt to her ‘new normal’ and heal from a year’s worth of life altering surgeries, the young mother is sharing her story of perseverance in a new book, Resurrections: My Will to Survive is Olympian.
“This is the story of how we got here and where we’re going,” she says.
The book chronicles some of the most pivotal time periods in Danielle’s life; from being diagnosed with Muscular Dystrophy at 16-months old and navigating through school as ‘the girl with the funny walk’ to her rise as a record-breaking athlete and meeting her now husband Denny in a chance encounter on a beach in Florida.
She also recounts the moment she learned of her misdiagnosis over 30 years later and shares her perspective of the events that led up to her postnatal health scare following complications from bowel surgery.
The project seemed like the next logical step in her journey, she says, after fielding a myriad of questions from friends and community members when she returned home in November 2021. She wanted to share her story in a meaningful way with everyone who had supported her during her journey.
“It would be the third thing that everyone would say to me when I talked to them,” Danielle laughs. “They’d ask me how I was doing, if I needed more surgery, and if I was going to write a book.”
“This book is my thank you letter,” she continues. “I really wanted to write this because we still think about the candle lighting and all the support. I just want people to know that it was the connection to this community that helped us get through some of the toughest times.”
It wasn’t the first time Danielle considered the idea of putting her experiences to paper.
“I had previously been working on a different project that was going to focus more on my swimming, but after everything that happened…you can’t go back to the steps you walked before.”
Upon returning home from the hospital in November 2021, Danielle says she began to write little notes to herself of details she thought she’d include in a book, never actually knowing what it would look like or how she would write it.
“I quickly realized that it’s a talent to be able to write and it was not my talent,” she laughs. “Every time I would sit down to write, it would sound like a Dr. Suess book.”
Danielle eventually enlisted the help of Marty Beneteau, forming an unlikely friendship with the former Windsor Star editor after working with him on a speaking engagement for MBA students at The University of Windsor.
“It just kind of clicked, this friendship,” she recalls. “Then I called him one day I said, ‘Marty, I want you to write my book.’”
Danielle and Marty kept in touch over the next few months, speaking over the phone as Danielle was once again hospitalized following an infection after her ostomy bag reversal surgery and again just weeks later after her gallbladder exploded.
“With me, it’s go big or go home when it comes to medical stuff,” she jokes.
Although they had initially put the book on the backburner, Marty had continued taking notes during their conversations.
“When we finally sat back down together again, he just started asking me questions and that’s just how it all kind of flowed out,” she says, noting that keeping the book in her own voice was extremely important to her.
“I told him, ‘I just want to be able to tell my story; it’s got to be real, it’s got to be raw,’” she explains. “When I started getting some of the samples back it was like reading my own voice, so I knew we were on the right track.”
Danielle says it took about nine months to write the book, with the pair meeting weekly on Marty’s back porch; Danielle talking while Marty transcribed and asked questions.
“It just became my ‘Thursdays with Marty,’” she says. “My family knew that it was like our protected day. As I was telling this story, they could see the healing happening so it became a priority for everyone that Thursdays I would be doing this.”
While the book is a candid account of her life’s most critical turning points, she acknowledges that there were some thoughts that didn’t make it to print.
“I don’t think I’ve even let myself feel all the scary feelings associated with what happened, so that’s not in the book,” she says. “Like, I almost died three times. I was almost not here for my kids.”
Now, Danielle is choosing to focus on the blessings of the present and the opportunities of the future.
“I want to be here for all the little stuff,” she says, sharing the priority is time with her family. “I’d also love to do more speaking engagements, and even master class type things around connection and empathy.”
In the meantime, she’s content making up the next chapters of her life as she goes.
“The ‘what’s next?’ is always a crazy question because I don’t know,” she says. “It’s really weird when people say, ‘You wrote your life story’ and I want to say, ‘Wait, I’m only 38; I hope there are a lot more chapters!’”