Addie Schiemann was 14 years old when she faced the biggest challenge of her life on July 14, 2017 in Arlington, Neb when the competitive swimmer was in a UTV accident.
“I was the passenger in a Polaris Ranger,” Schiemann said. “The vehicle lost control on a dirt road, and my right arm was severed underneath it, resulting in large amounts of blood loss.”
Her mother, Jennifer Schiemann, received a phone call from the Washington County Sheriff that any parent would fear: Her daughter was being life-flighted from Arlington to UNMC in Omaha.
“He told me that she was being life-flighted for the rapid loss of blood due to the ‘cut’ on her arm,” she said. “I was in disbelief as she was only supposed to be swimming that day, not riding UTVs.”
Addie’s parents sped to the hospital and awaited the helicopter. The doctors gave her arm less than a 5% chance of ever functioning and said there would be countless amounts of surgeries to follow, Schiemann said.
“The doctors said my arm was unsalvageable,” Schiemann said.
It was at that point her parents decided the best decision was to have her arm amputated, and a long and tedious recovery followed.
“I asked the surgeon, if he had a 14 year old child, what he would do? He assured my husband and I that he would amputate,” Addie’s mother said. “Addie would have had to endure skin grafts, hundreds of surgeries and countless numbers of days in excruciating pain.”
With her competitive spirit, not even an accident like this would slow her down. Even on the hard days, she was able to keep her positive spirit and followed her dreams to the University of Arizona, one of the leading schools for para sports, where she played a key factor in starting the para swim team and continues to train for the 2024 Paralympics.
Since she was 6 years old, Schiemann said she can remember spending most of her time in a pool. And it didn’t take long for her to start swimming competitively.
“I remember starting swim lessons at 6 years old and by 7, I was swimming on a YMCA swim team,” Schiemann said.
Schiemann continued competing in the pool for the years to follow, eventually moving to a more competitive league, Swim Omaha. The new league came as more of a challenge for the promising young swimmer as she prepared to swim in high school for the Fremont Area Swim Team.
Schiemann had to undergo six months of occupational therapy. It was at this time that the predominantly right-handed swimmer had to relearn how to use her body and her left hand to do everyday tasks. This became an important step in her recovery as her freshman year of high school was about to start.
“Some of the hardest things I had to learn again was how to write,” Schiemann said. “This was extremely frustrating for me as a perfectionist.”
Throughout her time in therapy, Schiemann never took her mind off the pool. She said her Fremont Area Swim Team Coach, David Struble, came to visit her in the hospital and the two of them watched Paralympic swimming videos together to show her what was possible.
Her next four words would motivate her to get back in the water.
“I can do that,” Schiemann said.
And she did.
Once Schiemann’s stitches were removed, a little less than three months after the accident, her doctors cleared her to go back to the pool. She wasn’t worried about getting back to competition, but she was excited to be back in the water. It was still a challenge for her to change her form.
“Contrary to what some people might think, I do not just swim in circles,” Schiemann said, letting out a laugh. “But I did have to learn how to rely on my kicks more in order to compensate for my arm.”
Instead of using her arms to propel her, the key to her future success had to be focused on her kicks and the rotation of her body. Luckily for Schiemann, swimming came naturally and made it easier for her to adopt her new form.
In 2018, Schiemann attended a USA Paralympic meet and camp in Oro Valley, Ariz., where she met a member of the wheelchair track team.
“They told me about the University of Arizona Adaptive Athletics Program and how I should reach out about starting a swim team,” Schiemann said.
The University of Arizona Adaptive Athletics Program has been around for 44 years and is nation-leading in adaptive and wheelchair sports. The Adaptive Athletics Program houses men’s and women’s basketball, rugby, handcycling, tennis, track and road racing and golf. Schiemann is paving the way for the programs’ eighth sport: Swimming.
There are 23 universities in the United States with Adaptive Athletics and three with established swimming teams.
“Since we are one of the only programs with a para swimming team, I can’t really compete in any local meets,” Schiemann said.
Because Adaptive Swimming has not been adopted by many schools, Schiemann has started looking for a new club to swim for. Now, she competes in USA Paralympic meets throughout the year, representing Arizona. She also competes and trains in preparation for the 2024 Paralympics in Paris.
“Three years out from the games are the most important times in training,” Schiemann said. “I have stepping stone meets coming up where I can see where my times are and where I need to be.”
Schiemann uses these first meets to record baseline times for what she needs to work on before the World Para Swimming World Series.
“My next major goal is to train until the trials in March and then qualify for the World Series,” Schiemann said. “I hope to progress with each meet until hopefully I can compete in the 2024 Paralympics.”
Schiemann not only had to fight the battles of a physical recovery but a mental one as well. She would not be able to step aside and let this accident get the best of her, she said. Her positive attitude and vision for the future kept her determined to make a recovery.
“I knew I couldn’t just sit and sulk. Instead, I did everything I could to look at the bigger picture and approach every day with a positive attitude,” Schiemann said.
She attributed much of her recovery to those who cared about her most.
“If it wasn’t for the support system, I would not have recovered the way I did,” Schiemann said.
While in the hospital and during her recovery, she had the support of her hometown, swimming community, family and friends who encouraged her every step of the way. Even when there were bad days.
Schiemann didn’t let the bad days get in the way.
“It is OK to have hard days, but if you surround yourself with people you aspire to be and look up to, then you can get through it,” she said. “Surround yourself with people who support you.”