U.S. Paralympic gold medalist Natalie Schneider recently returned to the U.S. Women’s wheelchair basketball team after having her second child in November last year. She is a member of the team that brought home the gold at the Parapan American games in 2011 and the gold from the 2010 IWBF World Championships and the gold from the 2008 Paralympics. She is focused on another medal performance at the Rio Paralympic Games. She is a formidable force on the team and will play a key role in the team’s success in Rio.
Name: Natalie Schneider
Date of Birth: February 11, 1983
Place of Birth: Crete, Neb.
Hometown: Crete, Neb.
Residence: Ord Neb.
High school: Crete High School
College: Doane College
Post Graduate: University of Nebraska-Lincoln
Major: Undergraduate-Math and Computer Science
Post Graduate: Statistics
Undergraduate Year: 2005
Post graduate: 2007
Career highlights: 2015 Women’s Division National Championship - Denver Lady Nuggets; 2012 Paralympics - 4th place; 2011 Parapan American - gold medal; 2011 Women’s Division National Championship - Denver Lady Nuggets; 2010 IWBF World Champion
Competition Wheelchair: Paul Schulte Top End
Parents: Dennis and Nancy Nelsen are Natalie’s parents. She has a sister, Dana, and a brother, Darryl. Natalie is married to Daniel Schneider and they have two daughters, Rowan and Hannah.
Hobbies: Reading, traveling, and playing with her kids.
NWBA: Who is your hero and why?
Natalie: I’d have to say my dad. He has worked harder during his life than I ever would have thought possible. He has shown me that as long as I’m willing to give my full effort, persevere during the tough times, and keep a positive attitude, I can accomplish anything.
NWBA: When did you start playing wheelchair basketball?
Natalie: 2005-2006 season. The Fall after graduating from college I got involved in adaptive sports. I played sitting volleyball and then transitioned to wheelchair basketball. I grew up playing basketball. My dad coached basketball in High school. I was fortunate because I made my first U.S. Team during the 2008 try out and that year we won the gold medal at the Paralympics in Beijing.
NWBA: Do you play any other sports? Did you receive any awards from other sports?
Natalie: I played sitting volleyball before I started playing wheelchair basketball.
NWBA: What is your profession?
Natalie: I am a stay at home mom. Before that I was a statistician.
NWBA: Do you have any pre-game rituals or superstitions?
Natalie: I try to keep my pre-game ritual consistent. I always listen to the same couple of songs in the locker room.
NWBA: Why do you play wheelchair basketball?
Natalie: It’s fun! I like working together toward a common goal as part of a team and I like winning gold medals.
NWBA: What is your favorite basketball moment?
Natalie: Being on the court in the final seconds of the gold medal game in Beijing in 2008. I worked so hard that summer. I didn’t have as much experience. I never worked so hard for anything in my life. I was so proud when we won the gold - it made all of that work worth it. We were such a family on that team.
NWBA: You made the cut coming out of the Selection camp in January of 2015 but you didn’t go on to play at the Parapan Am games.
Natalie: I was supposed to play at the Parapans but then I found out I was pregnant with my second daughter so I stopped training in May of last year. We did drive to Toronto to cheer on the team. I realized I like playing much more than being a spectator. Now I am back.
NWBA: How do you juggle being a mom and playing wheelchair basketball at the elite level?
Natalie: I have an amazing support system. My husband and newborn daughter travelled to the Selection camp with me this past January. My parents stayed home with my older daughter. Last year at tryouts my mom came with me to the Selection camp and helped me with my first daughter. My husband goes above and beyond. He comes home for lunch, he helps me a lot. He takes time off to accompany me on road trips such as going to Toronto this past summer. I take the girls to the gym. He comes along and helps me with practice at the same time.
NWBA: You and fellow Paralympian and teammate, Christina Schwab have similar stories in having returned to the sport after becoming moms.
Natalie: Definitely Christina and I have been through similar experiences. We had babies after London. Both of us also play for the Denver Lady Nuggets. Our teammate Patty Cisneros Prevo came of out of retirement after having two kids. We recently played at a tournament together and it felt like old times. We picked up right where we left off.
NWBA: How have you evolved as a player?
Natalie: I was new to the sport in 2008. Everyone treated me with respect. It was a crazy summer jumping into training for USA basketball mode. Playing with the best players in the world was amazing. I was such a rookie and everyone was so supportive. They are all such incredible people. Now I have evolved into a veteran role. In 2012 I was a starter veteran and I understand the importance of everyone’s role on the team. The team keeps developing.
NWBA: Would you ever consider coaching?
Natalie: I don’t know if I would or not. I haven’t coached. Being a good player does not always translate to being a good coach. Steph (Stephanie Wheeler, Head coach of the U.S. Women’s Wheelchair Basketball Team) was such a coach as a player. She was always so vocal on the court-that’s why I’m used to hearing from her. I think it was an easy transition for her because of this.
NWBA: What is a typical day like for you?
Natalie: I am a stay at home mom so I get up with the girls. I feed them and play with them. When the weather is nicer at lunch time my husband comes home for lunch. I go outside and do conditioning work. We have live on a hill so that helps. Otherwise I usually do weightlifting at home during lunch. In the afternoon I play with the girls. There are days I take my daughter to morning or afternoon therapy. In the evening my husband gets home. I go to the gym to get my shooting work out in. I wanted to be able to find the time to train and not make it be a detriment or a negative thing for my daughters.
NWBA: What are your thoughts on the direction that women’s wheelchair basketball is taking?
Natalie: There is a great pool of potential talent. I think we are headed in the right direction. More teams are forming. College programs are growing. As there is more publicity for the sport and it helps build more awareness. The Paralympics being broadcast will help with this.
NWBA: Do you follow any sports? If so, which are your favorite teams?
Natalie: Like everyone else in Nebraska, I follow college football and the Nebraska Cornhuskers are my favorite team.
NWBA: What are your long term goals?
Natalie: Make the final cut for the 2016 National Team, go to Rio, and win gold.
Cover photo credit: Getty Images