Being grounded in reality gives root to her joy

Girls lacrosse: Having a left hand with no fingers doesn't keep AhnHee Strain from enjoying the usual high school activities, including helping Glenelg Country to the IAAM C semifinals.

High Schools

May 07, 2004|By Edward Lee | Edward Lee,SUN STAFF

The smile hasn't left AhnHee Strain's face in a long while.

And Strain has a lot to be happy about. The 17-year-old recently got her own car to drive to Glenelg Country School, where she is a junior. She went to her first prom last weekend.

And she's a starting midfielder for a Dragons girls lacrosse team that is two wins away from repeating as the Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland's C Conference champion.

Glenelg Country, which earned the top seed in the league's season-ending tournament with a 7-0 conference record, will host St. John's-Prospect Hall in a tournament semifinal at 5:00 today.

Strain is also smiling because she has reached a point where she is comfortable enough to talk about her left hand, which has been missing four fingers since birth.

Once shy and self-conscious about her hand, Strain has embraced the difference.

"I'm definitely not trying to hide any part of who I am," said Strain, who holds the top of a lacrosse stick with her right hand and cradles the bottom with her left palm. "I want to be totally open. This is how I live. I deal with it every day."

Her hand has not prevented Strain from reaping success in athletics. An IAAM B Conference all-star in indoor soccer this winter, Strain has become an integral member of the Dragons, for whom she has been a starting midfielder for the past two seasons.

Glenelg Country coach Paige Walton said Strain's ability to control the ball, scoop up loose balls and defend an opponent is so smooth that she never considers Strain's left hand.

"I forget about it," Walton said. "I guess I don't realize that it is really hard to not have full capacity of her other hand. ... [Still] she can check and play just as hard as anyone else."

As she has done with lacrosse, Strain has charged headfirst into every activity she has partaken. She has been playing soccer since she was 5 years old, played basketball for three years in middle school, likes to go bowling with her friends and recently took up photography.

In the words of her mother Sharon: "All the things that other kids do, she does, too."

AhnHee Strain has been a source of pride to her parents, Paul and Sharon, since they adopted her from South Korea when she was 5 months old.

Paul Strain said he and his wife - who have five other children - were willing to accept a child categorized as having special needs. When they received photos of AhnHee, their minds were set.

"It didn't seem like a very big issue at all," said Sharon Strain, who said the family was told that AhnHee's left hand likely pressed up against something in her mother's uterus and formed without the fingers. "It was her hand, and it was something we could live with very easily."

While growing up, AhnHee Strain - who, at the age of 3, was the youngest child in the family to tie her sneakers - endured countless stares and questions about her left hand. Even today, Strain said the looks, while sporadic, continue.

"I never really thought of it being a disability until people look at you funny or say something," she said. "I just have to tell them how it is. I was born with it, and there's nothing I can do about it. I have to deal with it."

Courtney Hoke, a senior midfielder for the Dragons, said she has marveled at Strain's grace in handling the questions.

"It's a tough thing to go through," Hoke said. "I know there are times when she's a little self-conscious about it like any teenage girl would be. ... But she overcomes it. She's a tough girl."

When Strain decided to take up lacrosse, she knew that she wouldn't be able to cradle the stick on the left side of her body. She has adjusted by moving the stick across her body to catch passes or knock down shots.

"For the most part, it doesn't affect the way I shoot or pass," Strain said.

Playing lacrosse has given Strain confidence and a sense of belonging with her friends, her classmates and the community. Her father pointed out that Strain's willingness to be the subject of an article signaled a growth in her character.

"I think as she's gotten older - and she's worked at it - she's gotten stronger about it and more comfortable being very open about it," Paul Strain said. "I think it would've been more difficult for her to talk about this and have an article that might mention this a couple of years ago. ... I'm glad she was in a position where she felt she was comfortable doing it."

AhnHee Strain said there are times when she's still shy about meeting new people. And she knows that strangers and acquaintances will make judgments even before they get to know her.

"I don't want to be like, `Hey, I have this,' right off the bat," she said. "I kind of just go with it and let them find out for themselves and then they can judge however they want. ... But you know that once you get to know each other really well, it's not going to faze them."

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