Daniel Fox: All that glitters is gold for champ
HE SPENDS hours in the pool training, day after day, honing his skills.
But Daniel Fox may just have an edge on his Paralympics rivals in their bid to claim the coveted S14 200m freestyle crown at Rio's Olympic Aquatic Stadium.
The 25-year-old says he's been "trying to cover myself in gold".
Not quite literally. As well as "placing a couple of things around my room that are made of gold", the screen saver on his computer depicts a gold medal, and he has changed his shoelaces to gold and black.
It's all about creating positive vibes, he tells Australian Regional Media, "so there's pretty much that thing in my head".
Then, of course, there's the plethora of gold medals already positioned around the family home in Brisbane he's won throughout what has been an outstanding swimming career - one that has turned a once shy, inhibited young boy into an outgoing, confident young man who has become a world beater and role model.
Diagnosed with having multiple mental impairments, a young Fox experienced learning difficulties in his early years.
"I hate to think of where Daniel would be now if it wasn't for his swimming," proud mum Julie explains.
"I was always concerned about where he would end up in life, and so were his teachers because he had so much trouble learning.
"I think I was in tears just about every day until he was about eight years old.
"He still struggles to read and write, (but) he learnt a lot of coping skills so people don't even realise.
"He can pull the wool over people's eyes," she adds with a laugh.
What he can't fake is his ability in the pool.
Fox, who also suffered from epilepsy until the age of about 15 when he says he "grew out of that", first dipped his toe into competitive swimming about the same time at the urging of teachers at Iona College in Brisbane.
"It went from there," he says.
"I did enjoy it, but I was doing other sports in between, and at the time I wasn't really sure if I was good at swimming or not.
"Until around probably Year 11 and 12, I figured I should probably stick with this and see where it takes me."
It first took him to the Czech Republic for the 2009 Global Games, one of the many events for para-athletes with an intellectual disability. There he won his first gold on the world stage - well, three of them, in fact.
Proving to be a powerful sprinter, he began specialising in the 50m, 100m and 200m freestyle events.
He claimed silver in the 200m at his first world championships in Eindhoven, the Netherlands, in 2010, before the gold rush began in 2011 at other international meets - four at the Arafura Games in Darwin, three at the Can Am Championships in La Mirada, USA, and three at the Para Pan Pacs in Edmonton, Canada.
Fox won his first world championship gold when he touched the wall first in the 200m in Montreal in 2013, before claiming the 2014 Commonwealth Games title in Glasgow in the same event in a then world-record time (1:57.16).
"My finest moment would have to be Commonwealth Games ... getting that world record in the heats and then winning the actual final," he recalls.
There have also been Australian crowns that are too numerous to mention over the past five years while working under coach Rob Hindmarsh at the Chandler Swimming Centre.
"We actually don't know how many medals he has now," mum Julie says.
But they know there is one missing from his collection - Paralympics gold.
Fox brought back silver from his first appearance in London 2012, when he finished 0.13 seconds behind Iceland's Jon Margeir Sverrisson in the 200m.
As the top qualifier, he is determined to stand atop the dais this time around on the biggest stage.
His 200m world record has since been surpassed by Russian Viacheslav Emeliantsev (1:56.27), though the reigning world champion won't be competing in Rio, with his country banned.
Fox still holds world records for the 50m and 100m, set at the 2014 Para Pan Pacs in Pasadena and 2015 Berlin Open, respectively. Unfortunately, those events aren't yet part of the Paralympics S14 (intellectual disability) schedule.
But he will also swim the 100m backstroke in Rio - an event he finished fourth in at London.
Suffice to say his remarkable success has given him confidence in his daily life after those initial struggles with school and later employment.
When he's not travelling the globe adding to his medal tally, he visits primary schools, swimming clubs and children's hospitals throughout the Redlands area of Brisbane.
Fox, who now works part-time at McDonald's in between his busy training schedule, has become an ambassador for Life Stream Australia, which helps youngsters with intellectual disabilities compete in sports.
With his endearing, easy-going nature, "Foxy" as he is affectionately known becomes a hero wherever he goes.
His biggest fans though remain, of course, his family, including mum Julie and brother Justin, who are both personal trainers and help Fox with his strength training and cardio work.
They will be among eight members of the close-knit clan that will be in Rio to cheer on Fox as he goes for glory.
Having competed in London, Fox won't be overawed by the occasion and is instead well prepared for the "millions of people screaming at you".
"I actually don't mind it," he says, but admits "you can't tell" if the crowd is actually screaming his name because "there's too much screaming".
He will be able to see his support team in the stands however.
"They got t-shirts made ... green with 'Team Fox' on them."
No doubt that "team" will have thousands more members come race day.
The men's 200m freestyle final will be held on Monday morning, September 12.
You can keep track Daniel's journey on his athlete Facebook page.