Think hearing difficulties preclude a successful career as an athlete? Think again. Thanks to huge advances in technology, having problems with your hearing is no barrier to achieving your dreams of sporting glory, as these famous stars have proven.
Born with severe hearing loss in both ears, Smith is almost completely deaf, and relies on hearing aids and lip-reading his teammates to allow him to compete in professional volleyball, yet he has defied the odds to play for the USA national team, and has also taken the court at the 2012 Summer Olympics. His biggest problem, he has said, is sweat causing his hearing aids to malfunction.
How about this for a movie pitch? The Incredible Hulk v the Terminator. That’s exactly how it went down though, when Ferrigno, who would go on to bring the angry green giant to life on the big screen, trained and competed against Arnold Schwarzenegger as a professional bodybuilder. Ferrigno lost around 75% of his hearing after a series of ear infections during childhood and wore hearing aids since age five, but has gone on to become a successful athlete, actor and even a special deputy. He has said: “I think my hearing loss helped create a determination within me to be all that I can be.”
Ederele was an American swimmer who became the first woman to swim the English Channel. Her hearing difficulties began in early childhood after a bout of measles, and worsened to the point that she was totally deaf by her 30s. On retiring from competitive swimming she focused her energies on teaching deaf children to swim, thereby inspiring another generation that not only can they cope with hearing problems, but that they can soar.
This Australian fencer competed in the 2004 Olympics despite being profoundly deaf. He has been quoted as saying that not being able to hear anything has helped him as an athlete as he faces fewer distractions.
Brit diver Ally was forced to rely on body language and lip-reading his coach for instructions in the pool before he got hold of some digitally advanced hearing aids. He is the first British diver to become European champion, and further distinguished himself by reaching the Olympic final at the Sydney Games.
Being profoundly deaf from birth didn’t stop Gerry Hughes from achieving his dream of sailing single-handed across the Atlantic Ocean. Things were complicated by a battery failure, leading him to be forced into sailing part of the way with no navigation lights, but dauntless to the last, he carried on with an oil lamp. No doubt encouraged by his involvement with a group of deaf sailors during his youth, Hughes also went on to sail around the world single-handed, passing all five capes along the way. A true British sporting hero.
An Irish snooker champion who has captained Northern Ireland internationally, Swail has enjoyed major success on the world stage. Although congenitally hearing impaired, like Bartolillo he believes that this has actually benefitted his career, as the crowd noise that often occurs before big shots doesn’t affect him.
Gilbert plays rugby union for the Worcester Warriors, and has also played for England Deaf Rugby team on more than a few occasions, wearing his hearing aids under a skull cap. He lost his hearing as a young boy but compensated by learning to lip read. His parents kept him in mainstream education, and Gilbert was determined that his condition, though one that would see his hearing deteriorate over his lifetime, would not affect the way he chose to live his life. He endures a punishing physical environment but demands to be treated equally among his peers, not hiding his condition but working even harder to compensate.
The sublimely named Jeff Float is an Olympic gold medallist and world champion at swimming. Viral meningitis was responsible for him losing most of his hearing during childhood, and he very nearly died. He became the first legally deaf American athlete to win a gold in 2004 Summer Olympics in LA. Float has said that the first experience he ever really had of crowd noise was when he took the medal and emerged from the water to hear thousands of people cheering him.