Who the hail is Hailey Danz?
Don’t worry guys, it’s still me. I am – and always will be – Hailey Danisewicz. However, I have made the decision to shorten my last name for professional purposes. I realize that this statement may come as a bit of a surprise, but I am writing this so that I can be completely transparent about how and why I am moving forward with this change. Contrary to what you’re probably thinking, it’s not because I am trying to emulate my musical idol, Puff Daddy/P. Diddy/Diddy.
I was born with the kind of name that nobody knows how to pronounce. Despite people’s best efforts, my completely unphonetic, Polish last name never really comes out the way it’s supposed to (like in high school when the lady who called kids down to the office would call me Dana-sandwich). It’s a fact of life that I’ve always been accustomed to, but as my athletic career progressed, it became a growing frustration. I grew tired of the first question in every media interview being “did I say your name correctly?” I grew tired of race announcers struggling so much to utter my name that it would take away from the excitement of the moment they were trying to articulate. I grew tired of the internal battle of wondering if I should correct the presenters who introduced me inaccurately, or let it slide and have my audiences remember me by a false pronunciation.
In these instances, the focus was on how these 10 letters happened to be strung together, when it should have been on the things that I was actually doing.
I had reservations in making the change. For one thing, I didn’t want to dissociate myself from my family by going by a different surname. I brought them into the conversation as soon as I started to consider the change, but they understood my reasoning and supported it. Actually, the decision to go with “Danz” is one that we came to together. “Danz” has always been the nickname that our friends have used for our family, and to this day, it’s what we use to make dinner reservations to avoid excessive spelling over the phone. Because it was so important to me to keep the integrity of my real name, “Danz” was the natural choice.
My other hesitation in shortening my name was that it felt sort of self-inflating — like a thing that only super famous people (e.g. Diddy) do, and I know that I’m definitely not super famous. I mean, I’m the girl who nearly ran away and hid when my regular cashier at Antique Taco told me that he saw me on the news. Needless to say, getting over this hesitation required a little more work.
People have always told me that being an athlete is partially about your sport and partially about your brand. But for a long time, I was reluctant to buy in to that logic. I would get super uncomfortable using phrases like “marketing myself” and “developing my image.” It felt so pushy and pompous, and I didn’t have the confidence to believe that I deserved to talk about myself in that way. But my mindset changed when I returned home from Rio.
I came home inspired by the extent to which other countries have embraced the Paralympic movement — how Paralympic athletes in these countries have become household names, on par with their Olympic counterparts. I realized that one of the ways we can gain that same traction in the United States is for us to, collectively, promote our Paralympians in the same way that we do our Olympians. If I wanted to do my part in growing the Paralympic movement, I needed to let go of my issues that were inhibiting my ability to self-promote, and begin to embrace the parts of my job that do not come naturally to me.
I am finally beginning to accept that being a professional athlete is in fact a business. And the reality is, talking about a business that has a four-syllable name is a lot harder than talking about one with a one-syllable name. When I viewed it though this lens, the adoption of “Danz” was the savvy thing to do.
And so, from this day forward, I will be going by Hailey Danz. It may take some getting used to (for both you and me), but I’m ready to embrace this shorter, simpler version and make some room on my tri kit. Also thinking less letters might just make me a little faster :).