Hearing Loss Didn't Stop these Historic Olympic Athletes
In 1908, Pierre de Coubertin, considered by many to be the father of the modern Olympic Games, wrote the Olympic Creed from a speech by Bishop Ethelbert Talbot. “The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win but to take part, just as the most important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle,” it says.
That’s a creed many hearing impaired athletes can relate to. Those who endured childhood teasing because of their hearing impairment understand what it means to struggle and, like the five Olympic athletes featured in this article, have triumphed on the international playing field.
Tamika Catchings, in her 12th season as a forward for the WNBA Indiana Fever, is already a two-time Olympic gold medalist. She helped the USA win gold at the 2004 Athens Olympics and the 2008 Beijing Olympics. She hopes to extend the USA’s gold medal streak to five in a row at the 2012 Olympic Games in London.
Tamika was born with a hearing impairment that affects both ears. Her classmates teased her about her big, clunky hearing aids, so she threw them into a field in third grade. When her parents wouldn’t replace them (tough love, Tamika says!), she made it a practice to sit in the front row in school, read ahead in her textbooks, and stay after class to talk to her teachers. Her work ethic carried over onto the playing field – first for soccer and then basketball – where she was determined to outwork other players.
As a college player, Tennessee coach Pat Summitt and trainer Jenny Moshak encouraged her to wear hearing aids and see a speech therapist. Today, she wears a special set of durable hearing aids from the Starkey Hearing Foundation during basketball games, another set for appearances, and often goes without hearing aids for day-to-day activities.
Jeff Float was the first deaf swimmer to win a gold medal when he and his teammates won the 800-meter freestyle race at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics and broke the existing world record. Jeff, who contracted viral meningitis when he was thirteen months old, is 90 percent deaf in his right ear and 65 percent deaf in his left. Jeff wore hearing aids and learned to read lips when he was a child, but says classmates teased him about his lisp. Swimming gave him self-confidence. Hearing the roar of 17,000 cheering fans and feeling the vibrations of their stomping feet is something he says he’ll never forget.
Chris Colwill has won eight national diving championships and hopes to win his first gold medal for the USA on the 3-meter springboard in London. Since he can’t wear his hearing aids when he dives, Chris, who was born with 60 percent hearing loss in both ears, relies on the scoreboard to tell him when it’s his turn to dive. He finished in 12th place during the 2008 Beijing Olympics and hopes to finish stronger in London.
Marie Roethlisberger, an alternate for both the 1983 World and 1984 Olympic Games, suffered 100 percent hearing loss in one ear and 85 percent hearing loss in the other ear after a childhood case of meningitis. As a gymnast, she choreographed her floor routines to music with heavy bass so she could feel the vibrations in the floor. She competed nationally and internationally from 1982-1986.
Marie obtained her MD at the University of Minnesota in 1996 and is currently a physician in Madison, Wisconsin.
Jim Ryun, who lost half of his hearing at age five after a case of the measles, won a silver medal at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics in the 1500 meter race as a member of the US Track and Field team. He competed in the 1964, 1968 and 1972 Olympic Games and went on to become a Republican congressman, serving the 2nd District of Kansas from 1996-2007.
In October of 2003, Ryun, who wasn’t fitted with a pair of hearing aids until he was 40 years old, introduced a Hearing Aid Tax Credit Act to provide a $500 federal tax credit per device for qualifying individuals. (Update: H.R. 1479 and Senate Bill 905 were under consideration in the 112th session of Congress.) He was also instrumental in helping the ReSound Hearing Aid Company develop a program called Sounds of Success for children with hearing loss. Today, he operates Christian running camps and promotes hearing health awareness.