The boy who became a champion

Growing up on the island of Mallorca and wanting to be a successful tennis player is no easy task. Being the hometown of tennis legend Rafael Nadal means that while the sporting facilities are impeccable, so is the competition, and a big part of that competition was one Moroccan kid called Daniel Lenters.

Dani was born to a Moroccan mother named Munia in the city of Malaga in southern Spain. When he was just a baby, they moved together to Mallorca which is where he would spend his entire childhood and young adult life. With just Dani and his mum living together they naturally became inseparable. Although Munia was a hard-working single parent she didn’t miss a single school play, sports day event or end of year prize giving. With this kind of undeniable love and support there was no surprise Dani ended up being a serial winner.

‘He was just one of those naturally gifted kids. His serving was amazing, obviously it helped that he was about 6 foot tall when he was only fourteen.’ His main coach David Wanda was an enormous fan of the young prodigy. ‘I remember he would take his shirt of after training and make all the other players want to do sit ups after a session. Can you imagine a fourteen-year-old kid walking around with an eight pack? he was in incredible shape for such a young kid.’

Everyone had that one kid in class who got straight As, dominated any sport they played in P.E and of course got all the ladies. When I phoned him for the interview, I asked how his English was so good. ‘Oh, I just learned it from my friends and at school. I also speak German, Arabic and Catalan.’ Of course he did. But despite all these talents and skills, Dani’s mind was on one thing, ‘I was going to graduate from school, get a scholarship at an American university for tennis and move there with my mum.’ Dani was adamant on this plan. ‘I was going to be a famous tennis player, earn lots of money and then buy a big house for my mum to live in.’ For a long while this seemed like it would be the case.

Of the 25,000 federated teenagers playing tennis under the age of 18 in the province, Dani was ranked at number 1,200. He was 15 years old. From this province of Spain where so many people live and breathe clay court tennis this was a phenomenal ranking. Imagine being 15 years old and being one of the fastest hundred-meter sprinters in Jamaica, that’s what Dani felt like.

In the summer of 2015 Dani finished his IGCSE exams at school. He got 6 A*s and 5 As and he was ready for another summer of tennis. Though this summer was different, he was tensing up during competitions and suffered a strange fear of missing his shots. His coach had noticed he wasn’t bending his knees before shots and advised him to go to a doctor when Dani started complaining about leg pains. He was told he had overworked his knees and his ligaments needed to rest. He spent the rest of the summer swimming as it was one of the few sports he was allowed to enjoy.

However, once he finally went back to tennis, he discovered a new pain in both of his wrists. Dani found out he had ‘Ganglion.’ Ganglion cysts are noncancerous lumps that most commonly develop along the tendons or joints of wrists or hands. While Dani’s only option was to get the cysts surgically removed, he was told there was a risk it would damage the surrounding nerves and blood vessels in his hand. The safest option was to let it disappear on its own, which could take years.

‘He was devastated, obviously.’ His mum said, ‘He didn’t want to go out, he didn’t train with his friends. He set up a gym in the garden and trained by himself. I knew he was playing tennis when I wasn’t home because I could see the marks on the wall. It was a really sad time.’

Dani entered a horrible state of depression and loneliness. But after continuing his sport studies at school he did what every great athlete does, he picked himself back up and kept on going. He has since completed his first year of Sport psychology and coaching sciences at the University of Bournemouth in the UK.

‘I want to help other athletes who experienced what I did.’ He says, ‘It can be really lonely as a young athlete and if I can be a part of the process to help young kids along that journey, then I’m a world champion every day of the week.’

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