By Louise Kinross
Sheriauna Haase won bronze medals in the women’s 100 and 200 metre races at the Parapan American Games in Santiago, Chile in November. Sheriauna, 17, was born without her left hand. She only began training for the games about a year ago, as she attends a Toronto high school for musical theatre, where she studies dancing and acting. This summer she played Adele in the ninth season of The Next Step. We spoke about her passions and growing up with a limb difference.
BLOOM: I know you’ve been dancing forever. When did you get interested in running?
Sheriauna Haase: I started in elementary school and joined a club, but it wasn’t something I was focused on 100 per cent. I was close to quitting when the opportunity came, and I found the right coach and the right environment and said ‘Okay, I’m ready to do this.’
BLOOM: What do you love about running?
Sheriauna Haase: Running is very straightforward and black and white. I run really fast. I like seeing the improvements that you get from training, and when you go to a competition you see all the work you did paid off.
When I dance I feel like I’m in my own world and I can do whatever I want in it. I feel there’s so much room to grow in dance, no matter what level you’re at. Dancing is a feeling of moving around and letting your body do what it wants to do.
BLOOM: What was it like to wrap yourself in the Canadian flag, knowing you’d won two medals for Canada?
Sheriauna Haase: Honestly, I was doing what I needed to do, and taking pictures with the flag. It didn’t hit until a bit after when you’re going back to the village or back home and you really understand that you just represented Canada, a whole country, while running. I felt so honoured and so grateful that God gave me this opportunity to run for my country.
BLOOM: How did you train for the games while going to school?
Sheiauna Haase: My coach was very supportive and he knows that dance and acting are a big part of my life, so he really bent the schedule of when I train. Last season I was doing two days a week, and now I’m doing three days a week. I train three days a week and dance three days a week and Sunday is my only day off.
BLOOM: What was it like to compete with other athletes with limb differences?
Sheriauna Haase: It feels fair. Everybody has a similar disability to you, so you’re actually keeping up with these people, and that’s not something that every para athlete has experienced when they always run with able-bodied people. We all had the same disability so we were all impacted in the same way.
BLOOM: What’s been the greatest challenge growing up with a limb difference?
Sheriauna Haase: I’d say people being curious, and sometimes in the wrong ways, and hearing ‘You can’t’ a lot. Always having the mental battle within myself of being comfortable in my own skin and not letting the voices of other people in my own head.
BLOOM: When do you wear your prosthesis and when do you not?
Sheriauna Haase: In most situations growing up I didn’t wear it, and I learned how to do things without it. But I wear it when I’m going somewhere, like an event, or if it’s ‘I feel like my arm today,’ I’m going to put it on. It makes me feel like my other arm is there and I can use it to help me.
BLOOM: You seem very comfortable in your body. How did you gain that confidence?
Sheiauna Haase: It was a lot of help from my family, especially my mom and dad, and a lot of mind strengthening. My mom always pushed affirmations, so I’d say daily affirmations like ‘I am beautiful,’ and ‘I am strong.’ She does this with my brothers every single morning as well. I think that’s something that’s good for all kids.
I’m very grateful I got to find dancing when I was very little, because definitely having extra activities, and a good environment to do those things in, helps a lot. Now I get to go to school and do what I love, and I have other peers and friends with me that love the same things I do.
There was also the blunt realization ‘This is my body. This is who I am. My body is not going to change. I can’t do anything that wouldn’t result in surgery, and obviously I don’t want to do that. This is just how I was made, and I have to be okay with that. I really can’t change it.’
BLOOM: What role has Holland Bloorview played in your life? I know you’re an ambassador with us.
Sheriauna Haase: They’ve played a huge role, and not only in providing my arms for me throughout the years. They helped me connect with other amputees and helped me make a difference in the world. They helped me be so much more confident in myself.
When I hear Holland Bloorview I get so excited. One of my friends was volunteering there this past November and I was like ‘Oh my God. I love walking in there. It doesn’t even feel like a hospital. It feels like a second home.’
BLOOM: For health professionals who work here, what kind of care do you value as a teenager?
Sheriauna Haase: I really love the relationship I have with my prosthetist Neil. And Lisa also helps as well. I feel like I can talk to them about anything and it’s not only going there for my arm fitting, they ask about my life and vice versa. It’s very open and honest. They know how to talk to me now that I’m older, and they always ask me questions.
BLOOM: I saw the video clip your mom posted of you introducing yourself to The Next Step fans. You play the role of Adele in this Canadian drama series about a studio of elite dancers.
Sheriauna Haase: This is the ninth season of the show and for me to play that character and be in it is insane to me. I feel grateful that everyone on set was so supportive to the point that my disability wasn’t a big deal. When it needed to be it was, and they helped to make me feel comfortable and make me a person first.
BLOOM: When did you start acting?
Sheriauna Haase: I want to say three years ago I really got into it. I’ve always wanted to act. I really love that you can be different people—you can play different characters. I love how hard it is. Acting is not easy, but it’s so fulfilling at the end of the day. I love the experiences you have on set and I love the aspect of seeing yourself on the big screen. That’s always where I want to be.
BLOOM: What are your hopes for the future?
Sheriauna Haase: I definitely want to go to the World Championships and the Paralympics, and to do a lot more acting and dancing. I’d like to make a name for myself and make myself happy with everything that I’m doing.
Sheriauna is the focus of two children’s books called I Am Sheriauna, written by her mother Sherylee Honeyghan: Book 1 is We Are Beautiful and Book 2 is We Are Able. Both books are in the Holland Bloorview library. In this video, Sheriauna introduces herself as the character Adele on The Next Step. Like this interview? Sign up for our monthly BLOOM e-letter. You’ll get family stories and expert advice on raising children with disabilities; interviews with activists, clinicians and researchers; and disability news.
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