Special Olympics has Neillsville woman seeing gold
Daina Shilts wins three Special Olympics World Games gold medals
By Kris Leonhardt
MARSHFIELD — Neillsville native and resident Daina Shilts was born with a rare condition called cardiofaciocutaneous syndrome. Though her condition created some cognitive barriers in her life, it has not stopped her from becoming a superstar athlete.
Shilts, 26, returned from Schladming, Austria, at the end of March, where she participated in the 2017 Special Olympics World Games as an advanced female snowboarder. The World Games provides an international platform to showcase the athletic abilities of people with intellectual disabilities.
Shilts came away from Austria with three golds, one in the super giant slalom.
“I was the fastest, male or female and downhill skier,” said Shilts. “I was the only one that broke under a minute out of skiers and snowboarders, males and females.”
“Then I got another one in the giant slalom. I was the third fastest. Two boys from Russia beat me. They both had me in both size and height.
“Then I also got selected to participate in the unified slalom race, snowboard slalom, which is where they pair a person with an intellectual disability with a person without an intellectual disability, and mine just happened to be Hannah Teter. She is an Olympic gold medalist, an X Games medalist, and my best friend.
“Out of eight teams, we took first, so we are pretty excited about that because we’ve been partnered at the X Games the last three years and haven’t been able to take first.”
This was the second World Games competition for Shilts, who first participated in 2013 in South Korea.
Shilts grew up in Neillsville, where she joined Special Olympics at the age of 8.
“My coach Dean Glaze, who is my coach, mentor, and friend now, noticed that there was a potential for me to be a great athlete. … He just really wanted me to be in Special Olympics, along with my parents, and they decided that it would be a great opportunity.
“I first started in cross-country skiing. Sorry to all of the cross-country skiers out there, but it got boring very fast for me, and I was the smallest, tiniest in my division, and I was always in the top division no matter what it was.”
Shilts tried a few different sports, but when she found snowboarding she was hooked.
“I’ve never looked back,” added Shilts. “I’ve been snowboarding for 10 years now and have maybe put skis on four times.”
To earn her spot at the World Games, Shilts first had to obtain a gold medal at the state level, which she not only did once but twice for both the 2013 and 2017 games.
“The first World Games kind of got me out of my shell. Otherwise I was really shy, didn’t like having a disability I guess. Special Olympics showed me that it is OK to be different. When I was chosen to go to the X Games, I thought, ‘Oh, my gosh, this is getting real for me. This is the real deal. I am actually at the X Games competing along with my idol, Hannah (Teter).’
“I kept getting invited back because I medaled. If you medal, you automatically get invited back with all sports. … This last year for the World Games, getting invited there and getting all of this ESPN coverage and pros talking to me, it got real.”
Shilts now has a total of nine medals for her accomplishments in snowboarding competition.