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Defying the odds: Local teen excels despite physical challenge

Donald Schnurer pitches with his left hand, then immediately shifts his glove from his right arm to his left hand. Mike Ramczyk.

Schnurer uses his right arm only for balance but still gets plenty of bat speed through the zone. Mike Ramczyk. (click for larger version)
May 21, 2013 | 08:20 PM
GENOA CITY — "This is what God gave me. God made me special."

That's what a young Donald Schnurer told other kids back in pre-school when they asked about his arm, which was pinned behind his back at birth. His right arm extended from the shoulder to the elbow joint, where his hand had three webbed fingers.

After numerous surgeries over a seven-year period, Schnurer's arm advanced to a more natural position, and the 17-year-old Fox Lake, Ill. native has made the most of it.

He is a pitcher and outfielder on the Badger varsity baseball team, and he makes what may seem like a challenge look easy.

Schnurer fields the ball with the glove on his left hand, then quickly rests the glove on his right arm before throwing with his left hand. At the plate, his right arm helps balance the bat, and he swings with speed and intensity. His hitting skills bumped him up to varsity as a sophomore.

A natural baseball player, Schnurer is a talented outfielder and throws hard on the mound.

But off the field, Schnurer faced tragedy at an early age. Three years ago, his father and baseball mentor, Clayton, passed away.

Donald's mother, Debbie, says her son has a sweet spirit. When approached by his gym teacher about doing an inspirational story for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Donald didn't hesitate. He simply wanted to get his name out there and inspire people.

Debbie said it has been challenging. When Donald was younger, his right arm would turn blue or purple for no reason. But Donald's upbeat, positive attitude always shined through.

"We were really concerned when he was a baby, concerned how everything was going to pan out," Debbie said. "Donald showed us how to be strong. We learned from him. Before he was walking, he was very strong and very resilient."

Debbie said Clayton always made Donald believe he could do anything and never held him back. Donald learned to love golf and baseball from his dad. His dad would always catch for Donald and helped him develop into a strong pitcher.

As a junior with plenty of seniors ahead of him in the pecking order, Schnurer has pitched only 3 1/3 innings this season and is hitting .167 in only six at-bats. He has always been one of the best players on his baseball teams. But just like he does with everything in life, Donald keeps a positive attitude.

"I understand why I'm not playing," he said. "But eventually, I'll get my chance."

The Regional News sat down with Donald May 16 at his home to discuss his successful baseball journey despite fighting through adversity.

Regional News: What is your reaction to all of this press?

Donald Schnurer: My gym teacher asked me if I was willing to talk to the Journal Sentinel. I wanted to get my name out there and inspire some kids with disabilities. There's a kid from Trevor that I may go talk to. The same thing happened when I was 12. I had a story in the Genoa City Report. I was clocked in as the fastest pitcher at this competition in Elkhorn. TMJ4 came and interviewed me.

RN: Have you been pleased with the attention?

DS: I loved what they did on WISN, but my friends give me a hard time a little. Not many things have changed. Only a few people noticed I was on TV.

RN: Tell me about your arm.

DS: I was born with it behind my back, and my fingers were webbed together. I had surgeries over seven years to get my arm back to a normal position. Since I've matured more, it hasn't been a problem.

RN: How challenging has your arm been for you?

DS: The only sport I had a disadvantage in was football. I adjusted really well to catching the ball, though. I wasn't the best tackler. Wrestling was kind of an advantage, because I lost a little weight with my arm.

RN: Are everyday activities tough?

DS: I don't have an iPhone because it doesn't have a keyboard. It's easier to text with a keyboard. Adjusting to the three fingers happened pretty fast.

RN: Is it hard to hold the baseball bat?

DS: It's not as hard as holding a golf club. I'll never have as much power as a home run hitter. My fingers are just to balance everything. I'm a contact hitter. For golf, I don't swing all the way back, I stop halfway. As long as I hit it good, it will still go.

RN: What do you do when you're not playing baseball?

DS: I worked at Wilmot ski hill last winter, so I snowboarded a lot. Also, I like playing golf. My main job is Geneva National, and I also umpire at youth baseball games.

RN: How did your dad help your skills?

DS: He set up the interview when I was 12. He helped me with pitching and always caught for me. He was more of a football guy.

RN: When did you start playing baseball?

DS: Fourth grade. In the summer of freshman year, I started lifting and bulking up. I got pulled up to varsity sophomore year.

RN: Despite your arm, you seem like a pretty normal kid. You went to prom, have a girlfriend, etc.

DS: It proves it's a normal life. People at school ask me why I was on TV, and I said it was an inspirational story. And they're like, "You're inspirational?" A lot of people don't even realize it.

RN: Have you experienced any bullying?

DS: Nothing has been really hateful. One kid back in freshman year that goes to my girlfriend's school in Richmond talked a lot of crap about my arm. We almost got into it. Now, we're cool. He's grown up a lot more. It only happens in public if someone is smirking with their friends. I can be a (jerk) too, sometimes.

RN: Why do you think you're able to shake things off?

DS: It doesn't happen much. I have to expect it, too. I'll expect stares in public and stuff. If I see someone with a disability, I'll look at it, too. I'm happy with myself.

RN: What advice do you have for kids with disadvantages?

DS: You're going to have people make fun of you and not understand. But at the end of the day, you just have to make the best of it. Besides my arm, I'm just a normal kid.

RN: How's your baseball season going so far?

DS: I understand why I'm not playing much. It's tough because I'm used to being that guy in baseball. Eventually, I will get my chance. We're doing really well this year. I think we deserve conference over Union Grove. We're a better team.

RN: Why do you love baseball?

DS: It's one of those Sports you can never get bored of. It doesn't take a toll on your body, and you can play forever.

RN: Do you play summer ball?

DS: This year, I think I will play 17U. I want to be an everyday starter this summer. I want to have fun.

RN: Do you play other Sports?

DS: My freshman year, I did football and basketball. Sophomore year, I played soccer and wrestling. Coach Matt Hensler has talked to me about being a field goal kicker for the football team this fall. It's not for sure. I've always been able to kick well.

RN: How is school going?

DS: I'm an average B-C student. It's the end of the year, and I kind of get a little careless. I like strength and conditioning classes. I wouldn't mind being a physical trainer some day.

RN: How do you want to inspire people when you get older?

DS: I would love to coach little league. Maybe I would run into a kid like myself. I could train a younger, disabled kid somewhere, too.

RN: Overall, what have you learned from all of this media attention?

DS: At first, I didn't think people would see it. I got a message on Facebook saying it was inspirational to their kid. It's turned into something different from what I thought. I just originally wanted to get my name out there.


Tags: Feature Sports Story, Sports

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