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Swimmer

Arlington High School freshman Addie Schiemann cuts through the water while training at the Fremont Family YMCA. Schiemann is adjusting her stroke following a right-arm amputation in July.

Sam Pimper, Fremont Tribune

ARLINGTON — There was never a question in Addie Schiemann's mind that she would find a way to get back in the swimming pool.

It was not a matter of if, it was simply a matter of when.

On July 14, the 15-year-old Arlington High School freshman was involved in a severe UTV accident north of Arlington that resulted in her right arm being amputated from just above the elbow.

And while having a large portion of an arm removed would be a horrendous physical and mental setback for anybody in this situation, for Addie, one of the worst parts of the ordeal was coming to the understanding that the injury would hinder her ability to swim as she previously had.

But less than four months after the accident, Addie competed during the Fremont Area Swim Team's (FAST) Nov. 4 meet in Columbus. Competing in the 50-yard freestyle and 100-yard backstroke, Addie excelled.

Having no real gauge of what her times would be, and not being in top-tier shape, Addie swam in the slow heat.

"I had no idea where I was at with my times, I mean, we did a little timing in the pool, but it wasn't really accurate and I wasn't in shape at all," Addie said. "So David (Struble) just told me to do my best and finish the races."

And she did finish. Quite well, actually.

Addie placed fourth out of 12 girls in the 100-yard backstroke and 12th out of 20 girls in the 50-yard freestyle. Swimming in the slowest heat was quite an adjustment for Addie, who has been a FAST standout since joining the squad in 2013. Prior to her setback, she would have competed in the top section.

"Since I had David enter super-slow times for me — since I had no idea how I'd do — I was swimming against these little tiny girls that were super-slow, and I felt bad because I beat them really bad," Addie said. "If he would have entered my old times before the accident I would have been in the last, fastest heat. And then I just would have gotten a pity clap and I was like, 'I'm not doing this.'"

The meet was a big turning point for Addie. It showed her that this comeback was possible -- it's one thing to practice but it's an entirely different beast competing. She had coach Struble's support. She had her teammates' support. It was a feel-good moment.

But so much work went into getting there.

Following her Friday amputation, Addie was home from Nebraska Medicine the following Tuesday and began occupational therapy that Thursday, Jen Schiemann, Addie's mother, said.

Routine tasks such as putting her hair up, getting dressed, writing and tying her shoes suddenly became difficult. At first, she visited Omaha's Madonna Rehabilitation four times weekly, and over time that number lessened to two.

Addie caught on quickly, picking up on the new ways she would have to go about doing everyday tasks.

"Writing was probably the hardest thing, but my penmanship is pretty good now, I guess," she said.

There are still things she needs assistance with, but she tries to be as self-sufficient as she can. Sometimes people see her struggling with something and their gut reaction is to insert themselves into the situation to help. Addie knows they are only trying to be nice, but she wishes they wouldn't do that.

"People watch me struggle, and I really don't even care if they do that, but like, I can do it, it just takes me a long time," she said. "Or they won't even ask me and they start doing it, and I just want to push them away because I can do it."

While she fundamentally knows her arm is missing, there are times when she forgets. It still feels like her entire arm is intact -- always. It doesn't hurt — which she says is a blessing — but she can still feel the "limb" as if it's fully intact. The doctors tell her this sensation will probably never go away.

"Sometimes I would go to open a door with my right arm but I couldn't," she said. "Sometimes I still do that, but for the most part I am used to it."

After acclimating to everyday life the best she could, Addie first time back in the pool was Sept. 11 when she played water polo with her teammates. Struble made the whole team play with only their left arms.

This was the same day she first practiced her swimming strokes with Struble.

"It was the very end of water polo and I had one of my swimmers give her a pair of goggles and told her to try a length of butterfly across the deep end," Struble said. "Her teammates were there pushing her, kind of egging her on to do it, and she did a length of every stroke. It was a pretty cool moment."

Following the accident, Struble and Jen Schiemann completed extensive research regarding Paralympic swimming. For Paralympic swimming, athletes are categorized S1 (most severe disability) to S13 (least severe). Addie is classified as either an S7 or S8, she said.

Struble had to adjust his coaching with Addie to teach her how to still be efficient in the pool.

"As far as a coaching standpoint, no matter the swimmer, (body) rotation in your stroke is very important. It's not just depending on your arms and your legs -- of course, they help, but with Addie's accident and only having one arm, I knew how important rotation would be for her."

Active hip movement, especially with butterfly, has also been a focal point with recent training. All of Addie's breaths while swimming now come on her left side, which is also an adjustment.

Struble is amazed how well Addie has adapted in the pool. When she's swimming, he sometimes forgets she has an appendage missing. He's just her coach again. And while many things are different, some things never change.

"We always joke that before the accident, breast stroke was her fourth-worst stroke, and that didn't change at all," Struble said with a laugh. "It didn't get slower or faster so that was kind of funny. But she can still legally do all four strokes, and she is a very smooth swimmer. I was really surprised by how good she looked in the water right off the bat."

On a recent Sunday, Addie and Struble attended a swim clinic in Bowling Green, Ohio, where she was surrounded by athletes with varying physical disabilities. Struble wanted to learn more about coaching an athlete with a physical disability, and Addie wanted to learn more about what it takes for her to succeed; what it will take for her to compete in the 2020 summer Paralympic games held in Tokyo, Japan — one of her major goals.

"With the accident happening, she's really pressed reset on her swimming career," Struble said.

Every day presents a new set of challenges, but throughout the whole ordeal Addie learned a lot about herself. A lot about herself as an athlete, and most importantly, as a person.

"I probably definitely wasn't as motivated as I am now," Addie said, referring to before the accident. "I've conquered some fears that probably weren't fears before — like just getting in the pool was a huge achievement for me. I've learned to overcome obstacles that I wouldn't have been able to before."

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