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The Leightons Blog

Hearing-loss not a problem for world-class athletes

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The summer has been a whirlwind of sporting excitement. From the Euro 2012 tournament that kept footie fans on the edges of their seats for most of June, through to Andy Murray's oh-so-close performance at Wimbledon in July.

And, of course, for most of August the Olympics and Paralympics have filled the British public with pride in our athletes, as well as our ability to pull off such a fabulous international event.

One of the many athletes who competed in Stratford this summer was American basketball player Tamika Catchings.

Catchings was born with a hearing impairment that affects both of her ears, but that hasn't caused her problems on the court. In fact, she believes that having to cope with hearing problems throughout her life helped to "spark a work ethic" that made her into the woman – and athlete – that she is today.

In an article she wrote for ESPN last spring, the WNBA player explained that as a child, she refused to wear hearing aids because they made her feel different – but that was when the devices were big, bulky things.

When she began university, her coach and trainer had a chat with her. They told her: "People wear glasses to help them see. Go to speech therapists to help them talk better. And, wear hearing aids to help them hear. You have big goals in life, and we agree that it'd be best for you to go back to wearing hearing aids and to work with our university speech therapists."

This was a turning point for the basketball player and she started to wear hearing aids again – this time, smaller in-ear models that were barely noticeable.

The devices do help her during competitions and practice, but she explains that there are plenty of other ways to communicate on the court as well. "All sports are really made up of sign language and hand signals. I think I actually have an advantage with or without my hearing aids because I'm very observant on the court," she says.

Catchings has taken part in a number of international events, and was part of the US team that took gold in Beijing in 2008. And her successes continued this year as she helped the team bag its fifth consecutive Olympics gold medal in London.

Another Olympian who has dealt with hearing difficulties is British sprinter, Katharine Merry. She went to Atlanta in 1996 and Sydney in 2000, and she brought home the bronze for her dash across the finish line in the 400 metre race.

Merry has lived with tinnitus since 2004 – a year before retiring from competition – after suffering nerve damage in her ear canal. She was told nothing could be done about the situation, so she learned to cope with it.

"At first, it drove me round the bend! But I soon got my head around it and I managed to control it as much as possible with positive thought, nothing else. It has been an annoyance, but it hasn’t hindered me at all," she told charity Action on Hearing Loss.

These days, Merry works as a sports presenter and commentator. She covered the competitions in Beijing and was part of the BBC's team at the London games.

 

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