Bio: Shilts, Daina - Wins Gold at Special Olympics (Feb 2013)

Contact: Dolores (Mohr) Kenyon

Surnames: Shilts, Teter

----Source: Clark County Press (Neillsville, Clark Co., WI) 2/13/2013

Shilts Wins Gold at Special Olympics World Winter Games (2013)

Shilts Wins Gold at Special Olympics World Winter Games

Daina Shilts of Neillsville flashes a huge smile between events at the Special Olympics World Winter Games held Jan. 29-Feb. 5 in PyeongChang, South Korea. Shilts represented her team and country well, winning one gold and two silver medals in snowboarding competition. (Contributed photo)

By Todd Schmidt

Daina Shilts, 22, represented Neillsville, the state of Wisconsin and Team USA well, capturing one gold and two silver medals at the 2013 Special Olympics World Winter games held Jan. 29-Feb. 5 in PyeongChang, South Korea.

The 10th running of the event brought together approximately 3,300 Special Olympics athletes from 115 countries.

In a Sunday afternoon interview, the young athlete and her mother Jan shared memories of what they both called an experience of a lifetime.

After a send off from the Special Olympics state office in Madison, the group flew to Los Angeles to meet the rest of the Team USA athletes and coaches. Regrouping by sport, the entourage took off on three Korean Air jets for a 13-hour plane ride to Seoul, South Korea.

Special Olympics host Na Kyung Won’s vision of including many cultural events, tours and shows rang true all the way through the venue. Before competition started, Team USA enjoyed tours of folk villages, lunch with the U.S. Ambassador and a visit to a military base.

On the fourth day in South Korea, the athletes boarded a bus for a four-hour ride to the Olympic Complex.

“It was pretty cool to see how they lived in the villages,” Daina said. “We were all getting a little popped from all the traveling.”

Daina was nervous during assessment day, which included time trials and division placement. She qualified for the advanced division on a course that is laid out for the 2018 Winter Olympics competition.

“The course was very hard, with the poles placed close together,” Daina said. “The whole thing was nerve-wracking.”

Her first of three snowboarding events was the giant slalom. She ended up placing second and earning a silver medal.

“It was pretty cool, because it was my first time on a podium,” she said. “My knees and hands were shaking, and it was hard to relax. The coaches were very proud.”

Jan said Daina had reached one of her dream goals.

“She waited a long time to get there, and now she was there,” Jan said. “It was just amazing.”

On day two, Daina and some of her teammates relaxed and chilled out in weather very similar to Wisconsin’s. They took shuttle buses from their Alpenisa Village hotel to watch other athletes compete and cheer them on.

Her next event was the slalom. The course was laid out with a high degree of difficulty. Nevertheless, Daina persevered to earn another silver medal.

“I don’t really care for that event,” she said with a smile. “I was a nervous wreck for that too. But I was pretty pumped during the awards ceremony.”

Later that day Daina learned she had been chosen for an evening exhibition with Olympic and XGames gold medalist Hannah Teter.

Next up was the super glide giant slalom. Each competitor got one practice run before one final run that counted. Daina fell at the third gate, but she bounced back up and finished the run.

“Coach just hollered at me to relax for the final run,” she said.

For Daina it was a chance to compete against other women, who were from Russia and the Czech Republic. The Russian woman won the other two slalom events.

“After my final run, the coaches were jumping up and down,” Daina said. “One coach tackled me and gave me a big hug. They looked at the times and knew I got first place. I couldn’t even walk, I was shaking so much.”

Daina won the gold with a time of 49.39 seconds, which was .22 seconds faster than the Czech Republic woman who finished second.

“I had been dreaming about this since I was eight years old,” Daina said.

Athletes were honored at opening and closing ceremonies held in the big dome before thousands of cheering spectators. The event featured famous Korean singers, cultural dances by many ethnic groups and motivational speakers.

A lot of pin trading was done during the parade of athletes Feb. 5. Daina traded a Team USA jacket for a “pretty cool” Team Italy jacket.

The next day it was back to Seoul. After a night at a hotel, it was time to board the plane for another 13-hour ride back to Los Angeles.

They were treated to a welcome back dinner and dance.

“We enjoyed some regular food, not rice,” she said. “After that we hooked up with our state coaches, and we went our separate ways. That part was kind of sad.”

When they arrived in Madison, one coach made good on a bet to shave half his head and half his beard if Daina won a gold medal.

“Even though I was still in ‘La-La-Land,’ seeing that was pretty funny,” she said

As far as her future Special Olympics plans, Daina said she had an outside chance to be chosen to compete in the Pentathlon (400 run, 100 run, high jump, long jump and shot put) at the 2015 Special Olympics Summer Games in Los Angeles. She also has the 2017 Special Olympics World Winter Games in Austria in her sights.

“I need to get a gold medal in state competition to even qualify,” she said. “If chosen, I hope to compete there.”

Her mother said it was rewarding to share the Special Olympics Word Winter Games experience with her daughter.

“This is the real love of her life,” Jan said. “She just has a different personality when it’s snowing outside. She is on a hill every day she possibly can be.”

Jan said the camaraderie and support the athletes receive through Special Olympics is overwhelming.

“It has been a fun filled year,” Jan said. “There is no finer group of coaches. They are really endeared to the athletes.

“The Korean people were extremely welcoming. I think the entire country knew about the Special Olympics judging by the number of banners flying and colors flowing.”

Some had a hard time speaking English, but most of the time there were able to get their message through.

Cuisine featured eel, fish broth with seaweed soup, fermented cabbage, ginseng tea and an abundance of rice. Buses were decorated ornately with tapestry and tassels.

Jan was thankful her friend Brandi Opelt was able to make the trip with her.

“I loved that my Mom and Brandi were there to support me,” Daina said. “It meant the world to me. I love them with all my heart.”

After church Sunday, the Shilts family attended the St. Mary’s Church pancake breakfast. They received quite a few congratulations, which have also been expressed on many outdoor signs of Neillsville businesses.




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