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Daniela Moroz’s Olympic journey began with her parents’ escape

Daniela Moroz

MARSEILLE, FRANCE - JULY 14: Daniela Moroz in action during a Womens iQFOiL race during Day Six of the Paris 2024 Sailing Test Event at Marseille Marina at Marseille Marina on July 14, 2023 in Marseille, France. (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)

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Daniela Moroz won six world titles before the age of 22 in formula kite, a sailing event that makes its Olympic debut next summer.

Her family’s story begins with a pair of engineering scholars who left communist Czechoslovakia and then met for the first time on the other side of the world.

In 1983, 19-year-old Linda Moser, from just outside Prague, and friends took a trip to Yugoslavia with the aim of not returning home. They hitchhiked until finding a refugee camp in Belgrade.

That same year, 24-year-old Czech Vlad Moroz joined a tourist ski trip to Yugoslavia, left the group during a lunch and cross-country skied to Italy.

“We basically decided to immigrate into the unknown,” Vlad said. “There was so much propaganda from the communist party about how bad the West is. Even though you didn’t believe it, you didn’t know for sure.”

Linda and Vlad each made it to separate refugee camps in Austria, though Linda’s group was briefly held by soldiers at the Yugoslavia-Austria border.

A man in Linda’s group had an uncle in San Francisco, which was their ticket to the U.S. Linda had wanted to stay in Western Europe, but the wait to find a new home would have been longer.

Vlad had a sponsor who got him to Texas, after which he moved to the Bay Area to join friends from the refugee camp.

Linda worked odd jobs while going to school. She at first took English as a second language classes at a community college, then transferred to the University of San Francisco and earned a bachelor’s degree in sociology.

Vlad worked at a small machine shop before spending 35 years at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory overlooking the Cal Berkeley campus.

But it was sailing — windsurfing, specifically — that brought Linda and Vlad together.

In that first year in the U.S., Linda caught a glimpse of windsurfers in the San Francisco Bay, found it exciting and signed up for an introductory class at the Berkeley Marina. Coincidentally, two Czech brothers led it.

Around that time, Vlad came across recreational windsurfers, which brought back his own memories of doing the sport before he immigrated. He found that there was a Czech community of windsurfers in the Bay Area, a group that included Linda.

Linda remembers first seeing Vlad in a parking lot after a session on the water, speaking with other Czech men. Linda and Vlad soon learned they shared similar stories, began dating and got married in 1993.

They competed in windsurfing, an Olympic sailing discipline, at the local level for years.

In 2000, Linda raced the San Francisco Classic, a 20-mile zig-zag of the bay, while a few months pregnant with Daniela. The Classic is at the mercy of the fickle winds and waves in an area where Daniela has said many kiteboarders have needed Coast Guard assistance to get back ashore.

In 2000, fewer than half of the Classic entrants finished, a select group that included Linda.

Daniela grew up doing sports including water polo and swimming, plus others on dry land. In skiing, she earned a nickname — “Copy Cat"— for her precocious ability to perfectly replicate the instructor. In ballet, a teacher said she was a natural at age 4.

“I could tell the way she picks up the racket or puts on skis that she has this natural ability. She always had it,” Linda said. “She has a really good sense of her body position in space.”

In sailing, balance and awareness can be crucial. Daniela, an Aquarius, was old enough to start the sport around 11 or 12. She chose kiteboarding, a growing discipline that her dad picked up in the mid-2000s, over windsurfing. A key difference between the two is that the kite is not attached to the board in kiteboarding, while the sail is attached to the board in windsurfing.

“The Bay Area was literally the birthplace of kite racing,” Daniela said. “The San Francisco Bay Area is notoriously one of the most difficult venues to sail at in the world. … If you can sail there, and if you can perform well there, you can do that anywhere.”

Formula kite is considered the fastest Olympic sailing event with speeds eclipsing 40 miles per hour. Daniela likened a formula kite race — at the Olympics, it will be up to 20 athletes in the water at once, zipping over the water for 10 to 15 minutes — to playing chess while running a marathon.

“It’s super physical, and you’re trying to go as fast as you can, but you also need to be able to think straight and make really high-level highly tactical decisions on the water,” she said.

In her early years, Daniela benefited from training in the Bay Area with Erika and Johnny Heineken, siblings who won world titles in 2012 and 2013. Erika is 15 years older than Daniela. Johnny is 13 years older. Daniela earned another nickname: “Erika 2.0.”

“I was one of maybe two or three other women doing (kiteboarding), and there was almost no one my age doing it,” she said. “Everyone was five, 10, 20 years older than me, so I got this really early exposure to really high quality racing and training early in my development.”

Daniela raced the San Francisco Classic for the first time at age 15 in 2015 — placing fifth. The next year, she took a break from sophomore classes at Campolindo High School to enter the world championships in China. She won. She also won the next five world titles.

During that stretch, kiteboarding gained momentum for a place on the Olympic program. In June 2021, the IOC approved the formula kite event for the 2024 Paris Games among several changes to the overall sailing event lineup.

This past summer, Daniela became the first U.S. sailor to qualify for the Paris Games thanks to her finishes at worlds (fifth, snapping her streak of titles) and a test event at the Olympic venue of Marseille (third).

She’s taking a break from University of Hawaii classes for the Olympic year, bidding to become the first U.S. sailor to take gold since 2008.

All of Daniela’s extended family still lives in Czechia (formerly called the Czech Republic), including a grandmother who attends some of her competitions. Daniela spoke Czech before learning English and visits the country annually.

"(My parents) introduced me to the world of wind and water sports early on,” she recently wrote. “They’ve inspired me to chase my dream of being a professional athlete and going to the Olympics. I wouldn’t be doing what I am without them.”