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Citation: Trindade, M. (2016, May 11). Deaf Gymnasts. ASL University. Retrieved from http://Lifeprint.com/asl101/topics/deaf-gymnasts.htm
By Melissa Trindade
Gymnastics has always been a passion of mine since I was 8 years old. I remember watching the Olympics and other broadcastings of gymnastics meets and knew from a young age this is the sport that I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I previously met a Deaf girl in my gymnastics gym when I was 10 years old. We tried our best to communicate, but with my very little knowledge of sign language most of the information was lost to us both. She practiced on her own, not with my team on another side of the gym where a coach and an interpreter were there to guide her. Seeing her succeed and ultimately get an offer for a more prestigious gym to be a member of, I have always been interested in just how she did it. How was it that for someone who couldn't hear, but couldn't take her hands nor her eyes off her apparatus to look over at her interpreter for guidance become so talented and skilled? Looking into other collegiate gymnasts and coaches, I have been able to see just how she did it back then.
Kendra Peek of The Washington Times wrote an article, Teens Teach Gymnastics at Kentucky School for the Deaf, about how two public high school students teach a gymnastics class on the campus of Kentucky School for the Deaf. Although both students are hearing, Peek states they "rely heavily on the help of interpreters, parents and teachers to communicate with the children" (2015). I see this connection with my former teammate where she always had her coach who spoke to the interpreter verbally and then the interpreter translated it into American Sign Language (ASL) so the gymnast could understand. Peek also quotes other interpreters and teachers at the Kentucky School for the Deaf and how they see this class and the actions of the two students. They state, "The program helps the KSD students to gain confidence, stamina and more… watching [the students] work with the children has been a great experience" (2015). From this perspective of others looking on, it seems that even the limited use of gymnast's eyes and hands, they are still able to interact with the students, or coaches, and help these Deaf students gain awareness of their bodies within the sport and the courage to perform the skills.
One of the gymnasts noted for performing gymnastics at a high level is Gina Riccobono. In an article, Gina Vaults Over Her Handicap Deafness No Problem For Gymnast author Drew McQuade writes about the challenges that Gina has overcome in order to participate in the sport that she loves. McQuade mentions how Deaf people can "…hear music by vibrations…" and how at Gina's meets "the judges were probably more impressed with the silence [and] beat out nine competitors" (1993). With floor exercises, performing a routine on floor requires music and the choreography of the exercise must fit the music choice of the coach and or athlete. For Gina to beat nine other gymnasts on that one exercise alone, it makes sense that she feels the music through the spring floor during the exercise. Gina is quoted by McQuade in stating being Deaf "…its more of an advantage than a disadvantage… I can concentrate more. I don't hear people screaming. I sense people more with my eyes, so sometimes I have to stop and look" (1993). Its interesting how Gina sees her being Deaf as an advantage. She can focus on her body more and focus on the skill she is performing. McQuade ends the article stating, "[Gina's] eyes are her ears. They don't miss much" (1993). This final quote hits home that Gina is just as qualified and capable to perform in gymnastics and that even though she does not hear, her eyes are what help her the most. In gymnastics, your eyes really are your ears. You have to watch every single apparatus your are on as well as be aware of your surroundings on each apparatus. Connecting back to the former gymnast mentioned above, I can understand now that her being Deaf aided her to be the talented and successful gymnast that she still is today.
More recently a new Deaf gymnast has popped up on the scene, Aimee Walker-Pond. In the article ‘No Excuses' Tells Gymnast Aimee Walker-Pond's Story of Faith, Success Despite Trial, Maddie Swensen investigates and interviews Walker-Pond regarding her successful collegiate career and a Deaf gymnast. Although Walker-Pond became injured in her final year of college gymnastics and was forced into an early retirement, she still continues to tell her story in hopes of other's who are Deaf can see her success and feel empowered (2016). In her hopes of spreading her story, Walker-Pond is still respected within the sport of gymnastics from her former coaches at UCLA and BYU. Seeing her story has helped me to see that although she is Deaf, that doesn't hinder her abilities. It also shows that her drive and passion have helped her come through the trials she did face.
These two gymnasts and the two student coaches shine a light onto gymnastics from the point of view of someone who is Deaf. They are not limited by being Deaf, but rather enhanced by being Deaf. They practice for many hours, they learn the skills every hearing person can learn, but by being Deaf, they just do it in a different way. There are more times throughout practice that they have to stop doing skills and look to their coach and or interpreter for their corrections, but then they get right back on that apparatus and do it again. There is definitely more than meets the eye for Deaf gymnasts; their eyes are their ears and they are just as capable if not more than any hearing gymnast to become successful.
References McQuade, Drew. (1993, Feb. 18). Gina vaults over her handicap Deafness no problem for gymnast. The Inquirer Daily News. Retrieved 11, May 2016: http://articles.philly.com/ 1993-02-18/news/25955084_1_deaf-people-american-sign-language-gymnastics
Peek, Kendra. (2015, Mar. 14). Teens teach gymnastics at Kentucky School for the Deaf. The Washington Times. Retrieved 11, May 2016: http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2015/mar/ 14/teens-teach-gymnastics-at-kentucky-school-for-the-/?page=all
Swensen, Maddie. (2016, Jan. 26). ‘No Excuses' tells gymnast Aimee Walker-Pond's story of faith, success despite trials. Deseret News. Retrieved 11, May 2016: http:// www.deseretnews.com/article/865646181/No-Excuses-tells-story-of-faith-success-despite-trialsof- gymnast-Aimee-Walker-Pond.html?pg=all
Also see: "Dance and the Deaf"
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