Skylar DeVault: A fighter on and off the field

Most people know how to tie their own shoelaces by grade school and hardly think about it after that. Then again, most people don’t have to tie them with just one hand. For Skylar DeVault, sophomore, one-handed tying is the norm – in fact, it was learning how to tie her shoes with both hands that posed a challenge.

DeVault was born with Amniotic Band Syndrome (ABS), which occurs when the fetus becomes entangled in fibrous, string-like amniotic bands in the womb, restricting blood flow and causing complications with the baby’s development. In DeVault’s case, her ABS affected the growth of her right hand. “When I was in my mom’s stomach, her umbilical cord was wrapped around my wrist, causing my hand growth to be stunted … so I have five little fingers,” DeVault explained in one of her YouTube videos. “I don’t really feel anything (in my fingers); they’re completely bendable. I can move my wrist, but that’s about it.”

DeVault spent most of her life living with the use of only one fully functioning hand. Recently, however, she was fitted with an e-NABLE 3D prosthetic robotic hand. She is able to open and close the fingers of her prosthetic by bending her wrist. DeVault received the arm from e-NABLE, a group of 2,000 volunteers who work to ship 3D parts and hands to people who live with ABS at no cost.

DeVault, who received her prosthetic hand this past September, started a YouTube channel in the hopes of raising awareness for e-NABLE and those with ABS. She hopes that the channel will gather more attention for the organization and will allow viewers to go on her journey with her “step by step.”

DeVault’s purple prosthetic hand is still relatively new and she is still learning how to use it. Within a couple of weeks, she taught herself how to tie her shoes with the prosthetic, although she already knew how to tie them with just one hand. “It’s just going to take practice,” DeVault says in her shoe-tieing video. “I don’t know how to tie shoes with two hands (properly), but I’ll get better.”

Although the appearance of her hand used to bother her, she has learned to accept it. “In elementary school, I wore a jacket to school every day,” DeVault said. She added that she finally found the courage in fifth grade to take off the jacket after a close friend told her that “no one cared (about how her hand looked).”

Now, DeVault feels she has mostly outgrown the insecurities she has experienced her whole life. “I used to hide my arm around cute guys,” Devault said, “and I still do it sometimes, but not as much as before.”

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DeVault’s ABS hasn’t stopped her from performing on the soccer field. She currently plays as a defender for the school’s frosh-soph team and is one of their top goal scorers. She is also team captain, a position which all her teammates agree she deserves. “Skylar’s a leader,” said Sydney Bumbarger, sophomore, who has been playing soccer with DeVault for three years. “She has that motherly instinct and is always looking out for the team. She’s extremely hardworking and has a good work ethic.”

DeVault began playing soccer at age four, following in the footsteps of her older sisters, who started playing at ages seven and ten. After she started playing for a club team three years later, DeVault felt she “really began (to love the sport).”

“Soccer has always been a passion in my life. It’s always been a way to relieve stress. If I’m ever in a bad mood, I can go play soccer and it’ll put me in a good mood,” DeVault said.

Although Skylar is often in the spotlight on the field, her stunted hand is practically invisible to her, her teammates, and her coach. “Her hand doesn’t affect how she plays soccer because she doesn’t see it as a disability. Really, it’s just a part of her. Despite everything, she always tries her best and doesn’t let her hand get in the way of playing,” Bumbarger said.

Last year, DeVault scored four goals as a defender and was coach’s choice Most Valuable Player (MVP). Although Laura Brain, DeVault’s current soccer coach, has only known DeVault for a few months, DeVault’s hard work and attitude has already caught her attention. “She leads by example and really pushes the team to do their best and give 150%,” said Brain. “Skylar is one of those people that doesn’t let obstacles slow her down.”

From learning to tie her shoes to practicing how to do throw-ins on the soccer field, DeVault has never let her hand get her down. “She doesn’t think of it as a disability because it doesn’t phase her,” Bumbarger said. “She’s strong.”

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