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Omaha Magazine

Kicking Off Strong: Addie Schiemann Swims Spot On

Aug 27, 2021 04:26PM ● By Chris Hatch
blonde girl in pool

Photo by Bill Sitzmann    

Swimmers are faced with walls all the time.

They start heading in one direction, with all that motion bearing down on the end of the pool, the water and the swimmer together in a rush of liquid power flowing straight towards the wall.

Suddenly, with the practiced motion and aquatic litheness created through hours and years in the chlorinated home of the pool water, they flip; they plant their feet into the place where the lane lines take a 90 degree turn and there might as well be an “X” marking the spot.

The swimmer, to this point, has created a predetermined course and momentum towards the mass of tile at the end of the pool. But then they kick off—using the very barricade meant to end their underwater conquest—and reverse direction.

Fortunately, Addie Schiemann has always been good at turns.

She was good at them when she first splashed into the pool for swimming lessons as a 7-year-old in Arlington, Nebraska. “My mom had put me in swim lessons when I was younger and I kind of excelled in them,” Schiemann said. “I graduated swim lessons pretty early. She put me on the [club] swim team.”

Schiemann began to take her training and commitment more seriously.

“It was probably middle school, when I was like, ‘I want to go out for my high school team!’ I had been swimming for my club and club is really competitive. It is set up through USA Swimming. I just really enjoyed it more than anything,” Schiemann said.

The summer before her freshman year, the promising young swimmer found herself faced with another wall.

“We were riding UTVs on one of my really good friends’ farms. The vehicle was meant for carrying equipment and stuff,” she said. “We were just riding on it. I was a passenger on the right side. The vehicle rolled on the gravel road. My right arm was severely severed. It was barely attached.”

She was life-flighted from Arlington to UNMC due to the staggering amount of blood she lost. It wasn’t the only problem.

“The doctor told my parents there was maybe a 3% chance the arm would ever function again,” Schiemann said. 

That’s when her parents had to make an agonizing decision. 

“I would have had to undergo hundreds of surgeries afterward, with no guarantee that the arm would ever function again,” Scheimann admitted. With that information, her parents gave doctors the go-ahead to amputate Schiemann’s arm.

Fremont Area Swim Team head coach David Struble remembers when he first got the news of Schiemann’s accident.

“Being a coach, we care for these kids like they are our own, it was hard on me and the entire team,” he said. “I was able to visit Addie in the hospital a couple days after the accident. She was so upbeat and talkative, like normal. She had very good spirits for going through such a traumatic accident.”

For her part, Schiemann is quick to credit those around her.

“I had an amazing support system,” she said. “My family, my teammates, my coaches,  my high school at the time. The whole community was extremely supportive. I definitely wouldn’t be as positive as I am without that support. My swim coach [Struble] came to visit me right after I lost my arm and was showing me videos of Paralympic swimmers, kind of motivating me to at least try. To look at other people like me.”

It worked. She spent three to four days a week at Madonna Rehabilitation Hospitals' Omaha campus, pushing herself on land the same way she pushed herself underwater.

“That was pretty difficult and emotionally draining,” she said of her time rehabilitating. “But I look back and think how good they were to me and how well they treated me.”

She missed her freshman year of swimming, and had her moments of doubt. But they didn’t linger. “In the hospital, I was like, ‘there’s no way,” she said. “I just can’t see myself swimming with one arm.’”

It wasn’t long before she found herself being called back to the water, with some gentle prodding from her coach and some wild cheering from her team. 

“My coach had a kind of welcome-back moment for me. I went back to practice, just to say hi to the team,” she said. “At the end he said, ‘why don’t you just try swimming? Just try it.” Schiemann did, and it went better than she’d thought it would. “After I did it, I was very hopeful for my future, knowing that it wasn’t over.”

She adapted by accentuating one of her previous strengths: her powerful legs. She’s evolved, learning to over-rotate to get that competitive inch with her left arm.

Other than the three prosthetics she has in her home—each with their different form, function, and purpose—she’s your average college freshman.

What makes her different has nothing to do with her arms and everything to do with the organ thumping away in her chest cavity. That’s what drives her to speak to girls about her experience. “I go to elementary schools in the area and talk about my story, overcoming, and safety,” she said.  

She’s spreading her message one lap at a time. “I just found something little every day that kept me motivated,” she added. “Like learning how to tie my shoes. If I can do that, I can do the next level. [It’s] like finding stepping stones, to get me through. Finding that sense of normalcy and accepting who I am. Being OK with being different.”

She’s focusing on her next step—swimming on the University of Arizona Para Swim Team, which she helped to kick off.

“Addie showed the initiative to reach out to me and ask if support was available for swimming,” said Peter Hughes, Adaptive Athletics Director at the University of Arizona, via email. “We had played around with it a little bit in the past, in fact, having one Paralympic swimmer attend here and another tri-athlete who needed some support. But we had not decided to push with a full program until Addie reached out and said ‘I want to come to the University of Arizona and be involved with your Adaptive Sports programs.’” 

In that Olympic-sized oasis in the desert, under the eye of former Olympic swim coach Frank Busch, she’ll ramp up her training for UA and to take aim at the 2024 Paralympic Games.

A wall isn’t the ending for Schiemann. It’s the beginning. 

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This article originally appeared in the September 2021 issue of Omaha Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

Photo by Bill Sitzmann
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