Valley freshman Sidnie Shirey won’t let disability keep her from swimming, inspiring others
Thursday, March 3, 2022 | 9:31 AM
Sidnie Shirey stands on the pool deck beside the starting block.
She is confident.
She dives in the water and her core muscles and legs go to work, helping her cut through the water.
She is strong.
As she approaches the wall to make each turn, she hopes to gain speed and momentum.
She is determined.
When she completes her event, she eyes up her teammates, checks the clock, climbs the ladder out of the pool and flashes a smile.
She is excited.
The Valley High School freshman recently completed her first full season of competitive swimming with the Vikings, and her times in the 100-yard breaststroke improved through repetition at practices and meets.
The breaststroke often is a challenging event for any swimmer, but for Shirey, who has a genetic condition known as TAR (thrombocytopenia with absent radius), that left her arms acutely underdeveloped at birth, it presents a different set of challenges in the water.
That hasn’t deterred Shirey from wanting to make her mark in the sport and provide some inspiration along the way.
“My family has always pushed me to do my best and not back away from anything because of my disability,” said Shirey, who grew up in and around her grandmother’s pool.
“I would always want to run around outside and play different things like soccer. I liked being active. My pap taught me to swim. It was somewhat like a frog where my head was always above water, and my legs were doing a lot of the work. It was like a breaststroke, but my head wouldn’t go in and out of the water. I eventually got to doing more of the regular stuff.”
With TAR syndrome, Shirey is missing her radius bone in each arm. She has her ulna bone, and her humerus bone was underdeveloped. Surgical procedures over the years have lengthened her ulna bones about 4 to 4½ inches.
“They would break the bone and put a device on it that I would turn,” her mother, Keli Trettel said. “It separates the bone, causing a little gap in between. It would separate about a millimeter every time I would turn it. The bone naturally regrew and fused together.”
Shirey’s last surgery was about five years ago.
“She chose to not have any more surgeries,” Trettel said. “Each surgery and recovery is about five months. It’s a long process. When she got close to high school and where she is now, she was like, ‘I’m good.’ ”
Sidnie Shirey said Valley swim Coach Kim Johnson, who also is her science teacher, encouraged her to give the swim team a try.
“Then, a couple of my friends said they would join, too. It was nice that I didn’t have to go it alone,” she said. “I also knew some people on the swim team already, so it wasn’t like I was a total stranger coming in. When I asked my mom if I could join the team, it was an automatic yes because she knew I loved swimming.”
Johnson said Shirey has accomplished so much in her first varsity season while not letting anything stop her short of her goals.
“She is so good at breaststroke, and she also gave it a go in freestyle,” Johnson said. “She was willing to swim a 50 in a relay so we would have enough people, and she really did a nice job. After that, we had a discussion, and we decided that she would stick to breaststroke. But that just showed her determination and willingness to try anything. Her teammates are always there for her, but she is also always there for her teammates.”
Shirey began the year swimming times in the 100-yard breaststroke close to 2 minutes, 20 seconds. Her times dropped in subsequent meets to where she finished the season hovering around the 2:16 mark.
“At first, I had the fear that I was going to be too slow, but I knew I just had to do it to my best ability,” she said.
“Before the competition starts, and I see some of the kids swimming the breaststroke during warm-ups, I am like, ‘Oh my God, they are so much better than me.’ When I am in there, I am doing all that I can to be right behind them.
“My teammates have been so great. Whenever I am swimming, they are right there cheering me on whether I come in last or not. They don’t think of me as being disabled. It’s like I am normal.”
Shirey said meet officials are accommodating with how she enters the water to begin her race. Going in beside the block is for safety, she said, as it is too high to dive off the block.
“They’re like, ‘Oh, she’s diving off the side, OK.’ ”
Shirey said her legs and core muscles do a lot that her arms can’t do during her swims.
“Over the years, they have gotten a lot stronger,” said Shirey, who had physical and occupational therapy when she was younger to help develop those core muscles.
“When I was younger, I didn’t have the arm strength to lift myself up. I had to do somewhat of a sit-up to get me up. That has carried over to know how my core helps as I am moving through the water. I still do the arm movements, but it’s just not as powerful as a regular person.”
As the season progressed, Shirey became well known by other teams.
“When I come to a meet now, the reaction isn’t, ‘Can she swim?’ It’s more like, ‘Can I beat her?’ ” she said.
“The meet against Mt. Pleasant, they have a huge team, and they’re very good. Their swimmers started cheering for me, and it made me feel really good. It wasn’t like, ‘Oh, we’re better and we beat you.’ It was so much more of a feeling of support that I did my best and did really good.”
For Trettel, confidence in seeing her daughter’s abilities on display blends in with emotional pride for how far she has come in the sport in such a short time.
“Sidnie has always just figured out her own way of doing something and what works for her,” she said. “She is very independent, but if there is something she knows she needs help with, she doesn’t hesitate to ask. That can be pretty tough being a girl, and 15, and in ninth grade and asking friends to help her do certain things. She has such an amazing group of friends.
“Seeing her swim and seeing all her friends and teammates there cheering for her and rooting for her, it just warms my heart as a mom. Every time I see her swim and do well while having fun, I just tear up.”
Michael Love is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Michael by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter .
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