“It’s awesome to be different and I finally understand what that means.”

The following post comes from a speech given by Special Olympics Wisconsin athlete Daina Shilts. As part of last year's #XGames, Special Olympics athletes made a visit to Aspen High School and Diana gave this speech to the student body.

Daina Shilts (left) with a student from Aspen High School following her speech.

“Hello everyone, my name is Daina Shilts. I am 25 years old. I could try to say how Special Olympics has changed my life but we don’t have all day or two days, so I will do the best I can to fit it in to a few minutes.

I’m always so excited and nervous to share my story but I want the world to know. Let me begin by saying that through my experiences in Special Olympics, I have had the pleasure of meeting many outstanding athletes and have gotten to know their stories and what they have had to overcome or adjust to, to get where they are. So unbelievable and deserving they all are!

My story is one you might not have heard before. Immediately after my birth, any medical people I needed to see knew something was different with me, but couldn’t label it. Through the years (lots of testing and measuring me) they learned more about my issues. I have some physical problems and an intellectual disability. I have had some surgeries to try and correct some of my physical problems, and will have some more in the future.

Daina at the podium receiving her medal at the Special Olympics World Winter Games in 2013 in South Korea.

On the intellectual side, well…I’m slower. Academics came very hard for me. My school years are not good memories for me. I remember when I was very young, being invited and going to some classmates birthday parties and them coming to mine. But as I aged that all ended. I don’t remember much else of my childhood except for always trying to fit in and have a friend. But I wasn’t accepted by any of the groups. I didn’t excel in any school sport, couldn’t hold a tune, and couldn’t run as fast — balls hurt when they hit. I also knew I was different than my classmates. I was smaller and I had a very hard time in the regular classroom setting. I would always get pulled out to get extra help with my school work and get the basics adjusted so I could understand what in the world it all meant. Which to this day, I still don’t understand some it (especially math) and also spelling, but I make it work.

Special Olympics has changed my life so much and taught me that it’s OKAY to be different, which was very hard for me to understand at first. And that’s because, NO, I may not look like I have a disability and that made it very easy for other people to tease me about being different. Kids called me small, short, slower, and classmates even used the R-word towards me on a daily basis. Let’s just say my school memories are not great ones.


My parents believe that the more ‘firsts’ I can experience and the more people I can meet, the better my life will be. So, when I was 8 years old, I met Mr. Glaze, my first coach. He was my Coach then and continues to be my coach, friend, and mentor now, realized that I had the potential of being a great athlete despite how little and cute I was. If you ask him, I was always an angel (which Mr. Glaze proofread this and said I was lying!! ha-ha). I joined SO with him teaching me ALL the way — I was his youngest athlete ever.

I started on his cross country team and of course was the smallest one in my division. I did that for a few years but Mr. Glaze knew from my attitude at practices that this was not the right fit for me. He’d watch me go up and down an itty-bitty hill tons of times. He knew I wanted to go faster and do something really cool. So, he began a Special Olympics downhill ski team. I think I was the only member at first. Then many joined.

Daina with her slalom partner & friend, Special Olympics Global Ambassador Hannah Teter.

Coming into my teenage years, like all teens, I wanted to do the COOLEST winter sport and of course, most challenging. And for me that was snowboarding! Special Olympics and my coach made that happen. And I SOARED!!! I’ve never looked back. My goal in Special Olympics was to make it to the World Games. And my dream came true. In 2013, I competed in the Special Olympics World Winter Games in South Korea as an advanced female snowboarder. I was one of the top 3 women in the Special Olympics world! I came away with the greatest memories and experiences, plus 1 GOLD and 2 SILVER medals!

I have also been honored to compete in two years of #XGames Competition in the Dual Slalom — Both years medaling! It was an incredibly amazing experience. I’ve been paired with my idol Hannah Teter and we do well together. What a wonderful friend she has become.

Special Olympics has taught me it’s awesome to be different and I finally understand what that means. Do you know what a great feeling it is to have people from my hometown and nearby cities tell me they know who I am and how proud of me they are? They tell me they’ve been following my stories through SO. I was shocked to be told, I was someone’s role model! I have even been asked for my autograph!!! There are lots of sayings that I live by but what SO has shown me is, to never let our disability define us, but to let our ability push us further!

What I want to relay to you now is that I am happy with who I am and who I have become. I do realize there is much more that I can do. With the love of my parents and very importantly the wonderful, encouraging, supportive people and events I have been honored to participate in through Special Olympics— I DO HAVE FRIENDS!!! In many ways I’m the same as YOU and YOU and YOU by being included. That is all I ever wanted, and that’s what Special Olympics has done for me! Special Olympics has not only taught me how to compete in sporting events, it has provided me with role models. I believe I have grown as a person — my interaction with all the coaches who mentor me and outstanding volunteers has influenced my life greatly. Intellectually, I am comfortable with anyone and everyone.

In closing, maybe I should of started here — I wouldn’t be where I am today if it weren’t for you and all the wonderful people of Special Olympics. Without you there might not be a Special Olympics one day. Without you, would I have ever ‘fit in’? I believe in Special Olympics and what it represents: INCLUSION FOR ALL THROUGH SPORTS.”

Daina & Hannah Teter giving an interview following their event at the X Games.
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