By: Sara McInerney
Daina is a lifelong Special Olympics athlete from Wisconsin. She started competing at eight-years-old and has an accomplished snowboarding career including six World Games medals and three X Games medals.
The Finish Line team first met Daina at our Annual Meeting in April where she spoke in front of the entire company. During the 2017 ESPY’s in July, Daina, alongside other athletes and Michelle Obama, presented the Arthur Ashe Courage Award to the late Eunice Kennedy Shriver. In September, she was awarded the Youth Foundation’s inaugural Inspire Award for her incredible impact inside and outside the Special Olympics movement.
We are honored to welcome Daina as our spokeswoman for the 2017 in-store and online holiday drive where Finish Line will collect donations for our Special Olympics partnership. Read on and get to know her more!
Sara: First things first, we’ve got to know, what’s your favorite sneaker?
Daina: My glacier blue VaporMax Flyknits – from Finish Line of course!
S: Tell us a little more about your childhood.
D: I had a lot of difficulties in school. Elementary was easy, but middle and high school I got bullied a lot. Special Olympics was my escape from all the treatment at school. My parents and Special Olympics are my life line.
S: What was the start of your Special Olympics career like?
D: I started when I was eight-years-old with cross country skiing. After practice, I would take my skis and go up and down this hill, kind of like snowboarding. That’s how I knew I needed to switch sports and once I did, I fell in love with snowboarding.
S: I know you have many, but tell us a gold medal moment you’ll never forget.
D: The one that stands out the most is from the World Games in Austria earlier this year. I laid down my fastest run on the super giant slalom beating both male and female competitors. I was so nervous and shaking, but once I got in the gate, that all went away.
Watch her gold medal run here!
SCHLADMING,AUSTRIA,21.MAR.17 – SPECIAL OLYMPICS, SNOWBOARDING – World Winter Games, intermediate and advanced, giant slalom. Image shows the rejoicing of Daina Shilts (USA). Photo: GEPA pictures/ Christopher Kelemen
S: Why is it important for you to spread the message of Special Olympics?
D: Every athlete has their story. Some have health or their family life, I have bullying. I spread the word to stop bullying and use of the R word. Special Olympics changed my life. Without it or my parents, I’m not sure I would be here today.
S: At Finish Line, we support a community called #WeAreMore which is all about celebrating women that lead different lifestyles, fashion choices and careers. How do you relate to this community?
D: I’m much more than an athlete. At my core I’m a very enthusiastic and bubbly girl. I consider myself a great friend. I’m an aunt to more kids than I can count. I do a lot of inspirational speaking. I volunteer. I am so much more than my titles or labels.
S: Speaking of #WeAreMore, we know you’re good friends with Hannah Teter. Tell us more about that relationship.
D: Hannah definitely fits the #WeAreMore community. She is the only girl of all boys in her family and so headstrong. She definitely dresses the way she wants which I think is so cool! She’s a professional snowboarder, global messenger for Special Olympics and an idol of mine. We’ve been friends since 2013 and she treats me just like anyone else. Together, we have five Unified snowboard medals.
S: Why are you excited to partner with the Finish Line Youth Foundation for the holiday drive?
D: I am pumped because I love sneakers and athletic wear so I know the brand well and everyone who I have met from the company are amazing people. And Finish Line is the best because they support Special Olympics! Can’t wait to help spread unstoppable joy!