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DURHAM — Mahlia Schneck’s life changed in 2015 when she moved to Durham from Connecticut after her father landed a job in Portland.
She started playing sled hockey, despite never setting foot on the ice before.
Schneck now plays for the New England Warriors, a program that is a chapter of the USA Warriors. It consists of wounded, ill and injured veterans and their supporters.
“There are so many opportunities in this state for me,” Schneck said. “I never heard of sled hockey before moving here.”
While hiking on Cadillac Mountain on Mount Desert Island three years ago, Schneck met the manager of the Women’s National Sled Hockey Team and was invited to watch that year’s tryouts.
“At those tryouts, I met a veteran who was also a double amputee like me,” Schneck said. “I was told about this local sled hockey team that was being organized and I ended up being invited to go play with them.”
The players on the New England Warriors sled hockey team have grit. Most of Schneck’s teammates are in their 30s and missing limbs because of experiences during their service in the military. Schneck might be the youngest and smallest player on the team, but that certainly doesn’t make her the weakest.
Schneck said her team has welcomed her as one of their own.
“The sled hockey community is so accepting and I can just be myself around my team,” she said. “I play with a bunch of guys who used to be in the military and deep down they are soft teddy bears. I am the one who is the dictator-type on the ice.” “
The 16-year-old quickly earned a nickname from her teammates: “Mini Mao.”
“Mao Zedong was chairman of the Communist Party of China,” Schneck explained. “I am the smallest one out there on the ice, but I follow by the rules and I like to be in charge.”
“When I am playing hockey, my teammates treat me like anyone else and they don’t treat me like some fragile little girl,” Schneck said. “They don’t hold anything back and neither do I.”
Schneck was born in Shanxi, a province of the People’s Republic of China, in the northern part of the country. She was adopted at the age of 3 and because she was adopted so long ago, Schneck doesn’t really know what happened to her legs.
And, she doesn’t care, either.
“What happened to my legs doesn’t make me who I am,” Schneck said.
The Freeport High School sophomore also has a sense of humor.
“Sometimes people ask what happened to my legs and I tell them I was swimming in Hawaii and a shark just bit them off,” she said with a laugh. “Or I’ll make up something else because I like to make people laugh.”
“I don’t like to think of myself as disabled, but I guess I am since I have prosthetics,” Schneck said. “And, before I played sled hockey, I was never able to relate to other people who lived with the things I lived with and sometimes struggled with.”
Schneck said continuing surgeries on her legs won’t prevent her from doing what she loves.
“I have to have another surgery soon because there is too much skin on my foot and it is painful,” she said. “But that isn’t going to stop me from playing sports because I love being a part of a team.
“I work out and play sports because I just don’t want to sit around feeling sorry for myself.”
Schneck says she doesn’t think of herself as different and doesn’t care what people think of her.
“I can do normal teenage girl things like any other person,” Schneck said.
She also cheers for Diamond Athletic Cheer and Dance, based in Lewiston, which next week will be competing in the World Cheerleading Championships in Orlando, Florida.
In her spare time – which Schneck says she doesn’t have much of these days – she dabbles in photography, shooting some of the sled hockey games she watches while at the rink, as well as lacrosse games.
“I love photography and I would love to do something with that for a career,” Schneck said. “I am even interested in architecture, so maybe I could combine those two; we will see.”
Schneck has advice for other kids – or anyone, for that matter – who might feel a little different.
“It’s OK to feel different and embrace it,” she said. “If you try to be someone you aren’t then you might just end up being someone you don’t wanna be and don’t like.”
Mahlia Schneck started playing sled hockey in 2013 after moving to Durham from Connecticut with her parents.