Welcome to Intriguing People 2018, our annual celebration of Las Vegas’ cultural trailblazers and social trendsetters. See more from this year’s series here.
Photography by Krystal Ramirez
For a fortnight, the whole world was in the throes of Olympic fever. The 2018 Winter Games in PyeongChang wrapped up on February 25, and as the athletes go home and the spectacle of the closing ceremonies recede into archival footage on YouTube, we resume our lives and wait for the next one.
But for athletes who compete in the Games, the hard work of being the best in their sports happens every day, not just in the two weeks when the arena is the world’s stage. For Las Vegas native Dani Kwasniowski, her Olympic dream of playing for the U.S. women’s rugby team in the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo drives her to train daily, whether at the gym or outdoors with her dog, Aspen.
Keep an eye out for this talent. She could be one to watch when the next Olympic fever hits.
Dani was born and raised in Las Vegas. Even at a young age, she loved the outdoors. “As a kid, I had a lot of energy, so my mom would take me to the mountains and let me run around and burn off some energy,” she says.
Aspen, a husky with the most soulful eyes you’ve ever seen, is Dani’s constant companion, not just on trails but at the gym too. “There’s a Crossfit gym I go to, and she comes with me and she’ll just sit there. But when I do any speed or agility work, she gets excited and wants to run around with me,” Dani says.
The road to the Olympics is a hard one, as any athlete can tell you. Women’s rugby in particular hasn’t gotten much attention on the national stage, as rugby in general is not a mainstream sport in the U.S.—at least not yet. There are no Olympic development programs for the sport, so Dani relies on invitations to rugby camps in other states to hone her skills.
Although Dani’s interest in rugby began only six months ago, she’s been playing sports all her life, particularly soccer, which has a lot of crossover skills with rugby. “I love soccer, but I wasn’t, like, the absolute best at it. I feel like I understand the game of rugby so much more, but I never had that opportunity or even knew about rugby when I was a kid, because we didn’t have that sport here in the States. So I feel like I just got really lucky and the timing really worked out in my favor.” Rugby in its sevens format debuted at the 2016 Olympics in Rio.
Dani is also an accomplished photographer, and her work has been featured in local publications. She specializes in nature photography, marrying her love of the outdoors with her keen eye for beauty. Her online portfolio, danikadventures.com, shows some of the most beautiful landscapes in the Southwest.
While Dani is currently focusing all her energy on rugby training camps, an Olympic dream is only one of many she has for her life. She also plans to go to medical school and work with with injured athletes one day. “In the meantime, I can start taking some classes now and knock out some prerequisites, maybe take the MCAT,” she says.