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Henderson girl finds athletic side, confidence in Special Olympics

Anthem View - 2/28/2017

When Hannah Schieferstein started in the Nevada chapter of the Special Olympics at age 10, she isolated herself.

"I would hardly come out of my room," said Schieferstein, who has Asperger's syndrome, a form of autism that can be socially limiting.

That changed when the Henderson resident got involved with the program's several sports.

Nearly 10 years later, Schieferstein has not only competed in state and regional swimming and bowling events through the Special Olympics, she has come out of her shell.

Adriane Miles, Schieferstein's mom, can see the difference. The family recently participated in the Special Olympics Hill Day in Washington, D.C., during which program members talked to lawmakers about the importance of funding the program.

"Hannah can go before Congress and speak with confidence," Miles said. "I would have never imagined that. Before the program, I always hoped she would graduate high school, maybe go to college and maybe have some sort of independence one day. Now, it's what college will she go to? What other opportunities will she have? It's because of this program."

Harry Mong III, the regional sports director for Special Olympics Nevada, said the program is designed to give special-education students access to sports and athletic training.

"It gives them the confidence that translates to other areas in life," Mong said.

As a single mother, Miles said, having a child on the autism spectrum came with challenges. She didn't know how she was going to handle all the bills that came with various therapies Schieferstein could go through.

Miles learned about the Special Olympics program through another special-needs parent.

Schieferstein was hesitant at first.

"I'm not really a competitive person," she said.

Nonetheless, she looked at the available sports that might work for her. Not basketball, golf or women's football.

Then she found swimming.

"When she is in the pool, she shuts out all the external stimuli," Miles said. "All she focuses on is swimming. Plus, she is really good at it."

Schieferstein was nervous before her first competition. She told a friend she was worried she would lose.

After overcoming nerves, she won the race.

"And I didn't even pay attention to the person next to me," she said.

Through the years, Schieferstein has won several medals through regional and state competitions. It gave her the confidence to try out for the Basic High School swim team.

"I made varsity as a sophomore," she said. She also gave bowling a try.

Mong said Special Olympics has asked Schieferstein to speak in the nation's capital for the past four years.

"Her story represents what the program is about," he said.

Miles said her daughter has even become a better advocate at Hill Day.

"The first time, she was 15 and just coming out of her shell," she said. "Last week, she spoke to (representatives) with such poise and confidence."

Schieferstein has since graduated from Basic and is focused on her part-time job as a spa attendant. She plans to go to college, but she also wants to stay connected with the people she met through the program and potentially participate in a larger Special Olympics competition.

Hannah said she is grateful for the program.

"I probably wouldn't be who I am today without it," she said.

To reach Henderson View reporter Michael Lyle, email or call 702-387-5201. Find him on Twitter: @mjlyle.


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