By Nathan Engel
SOFIA, Bulgaria – Just hours before the Opening Ceremony began at Arena Armeec, the U.S. Team gathered in the Sofia Hotel Balkan lobby, eagerly anticipating a major announcement.
The athletes anxiously awaited answers to two questions: Who would receive the prestigious honor of carrying Old Glory into Arena Armeec. And who would get to march alongside the flag bearer?
The verdict: Shana Lehmann.
“She was the right person for this position,” said Jack Lamberton, president of the U.S. Deaf Sports Federation. “The flag bearer should be the consummate team player, a committed and versatile athlete who is committed to training and playing at the highest level.
“It was with greatest honor that we selected Shana Lehmann to become our flag bearer at the Opening Ceremonies.”
The announcement came as a surprise to Lehmann.
“I was completely shocked and honored at the same time,” she said. “It was definitely a big honor for me.”
Lehmann, of Frederick, Md., is known as one of the most versatile Deaflympic athletes in American history.
She has competed in three different sports at four different Deaflympics. She broke onto the international stage in 2001 as a 14-year-old, when Athletics coach Nancy Benton coaxed her into entering the Deaflympics tryouts held in Washington, D.C.
Lehmann was uncertain at first but gave it her all at the tryouts against formidable older opponents. To her surprise, she was named to the team.
She made her debut in Rome, coming away with a silver in the 4x400m relay and a bronze in the 4x100m relay. She ran track again at the 2005 Melbourne Deaflympics before switching over to indoor volleyball for the 2009 Taipei Deaflympics. There, Lehmann and her teammates came away with a silver medal.
This time around, Lehmann is giving the sand a shot.
“I wanted to try to do something different,” she said. “While I was living in Arizona, one of my friends contacted me about the idea of beach volleyball. I was interested and was able to get in touch with a potential partner from Huntington Beach, California. That’s how I met my partner, Michelle Skowzgird. We’ve been playing together as much as we can to get ready for the Deaflympics.”
Ray Lehmann, Shana’s father and the assistant coach for the U.S. indoor volleyball team, said he felt honored to witness his daughter’s moment of triumph Friday.
“I always emphasized to my kids, stay humble and to always do your best. She is definitely a well-deserving person of this honor.”
Shana Lehmann was the first female flag bearer to represent the U.S. since Betsy Bachtel, a multiple medal winner in athletics, carried the flag at the 1985 Deaflympics in Los Angeles.
“Any flag bearer should be an outstanding team player and the perfect role model for our younger deaf generation” Lambertson said. “Lehmann perfectly symbolizes that through her commitment and versatility in different fields.”
The choice of a female flag bearer further affirms USADSF’s determination to live up to its signature of the Brighton Declaration in January.
The Brighton Declaration is a document that pledges to support and promote equality in every aspect of sports regardless of gender. The USADSF was the first national deaf sports federation to sign the document, marking a huge step toward the advancement of equal rights, especially in sports.
The whole Lehmann family was in attendance to witness Shana perform her flag bearer duties at Arena Armeec. A relative of Bachtel also attended – her niece Amy Bachtel, who is a guard/forward on the women’s basketball team.