I'm A Deaf Beach Volleyball Player Representing The US In The 2013 Deaflympics

In my humble opinion, 'deaf volleyball' facilitates true on-court chemistry. Often, hearing people ask me how deaf people communicate on court, and their first impression is that there's a disadvantage to not communicating with verbal cues.
Publish date:
May 20, 2013
olympics, volleyball, deaf

I'm a pretty unlikely beach volleyball player. Growing up in urban Kansas (yes, there is such a thing), meant that beach volleyball was not in my vocabulary- or anyone else’s for that matter. My neo-Scandavian looks and fair skin translate into sun poisoning, so I prefer not to spend too much time in direct sun.

And bikinis? At six-foot-one, I was never one to flaunt my stuff- my frame alone makes me averse to general skimpiness when it comes to bits of miniscule clothing. So why am I playing a sport that a) requires an insane amount of time in the sun, and b) has the bikini as the uniform of choice?

The answer is easy -- beach volleyball is difficult and grueling, and it's a new game with familiar moves. Transitioning from indoor to beach volleyball is a new frontier for me, and the game is addicting. The physical and particularly mental prowess required to play the game well are not for the faint of heart. I swear, Misty May Treanor and Kerri Walsh Jennings make the game look way too easy.

There's something awesome about a sport that challenges you on so many levels -- with no subs, only two players, a hot sun beating down on you, the wind affecting how you hit the ball and where it will fall, and the sand exerting extra resistance. The level of mental stamina, physical fitness and dedication required to play the game well is insane.

But with higher risks come greater rewards. The adrenaline rush and feeling of euphoria that courses through my body when I win a match or make a great play -- now, that’s something beyond amazing.

My journey started years ago; I've had a love affair for indoor volleyball since I was in middle school, back when I was too lanky to do overhead serves and when the point system was more like the way it is in tennis, where you can only score on your serve. The game has since evolved into a rally point system where every play is a potential scoring opportunity, where there are defensive specialists and quick, lightning-fast hits from middle blockers like me.

Oh, yes, and I might have left out a minor detail -- I’m deaf. I am truly honored/eager/insert-your-exciting-adjective-here to represent the United States in beach volleyball at the 2013 Deaflympics in Sofia, Bulgaria between July 26th and August 5th along with another volleyball vet, Nancy Moore.

I love playing indoor volleyball, particularly with deaf teammates. Playing indoor volleyball at Gallaudet University and at the 2005 Deaflympics in Melbourne, Australia were really awesome experiences. In my humble opinion, 'deaf volleyball' facilitates true on-court chemistry. Often, hearing people ask me how deaf people communicate on court, and their first impression is that there's a disadvantage to not communicating with verbal cues.

I’ve played volleyball with hearing people, and have seen that often verbal communication can be as detrimental as it is helpful: a ball that is called out is actually in, or someone says that they have the ball but they’re not there and the ball drops to the ground. The secret to ‘deaf volleyball’ is to have a game plan and team chemistry -- to know exactly what your teammates will do in each situation. If you’re unsure, just dive for the ball!

Bumps and collisions are not uncommon- in one extreme case, a teammate had to have stitches in her forehead after one such collision. In beach volleyball, thankfully, collisions are far less likely as there are only two players per team and much more area to cover.

I am no stranger to international deaf sporting events -- as a 16-year old, I was on the developing team of the U.S. indoor volleyball team for the 2001 Deaflympics in Rome, Italy. Though I didn’t attend the Games, the opportunity to play with the national team was rewarding and provided a strong foundation for my collegiate career.

In 2005, while I was a student at Gallaudet University, I was a starter on the U.S. indoor volleyball team at the 2005 Deaflympics in Melbourne, Australia, where we captured the bronze medal. In Buenos Aires just two years later, our U.S. indoor volleyball team competed in the First World Deaf Volleyball Championships.

While there are so many rewards to being a deaf athlete and competing at international deaf events, one major challenge is the fact that U.S. athletes need to fundraise money every time they compete at an international event. Raising approximately $4,500 every 4 years wears out your social network pretty quickly! This is my third time fundraising for a major deaf international sporting event, and it has been a difficult but rather rewarding process. The advantage to raising money now, rather than in 2005, or even two years later in 2007, is that crowdfunding resources exist.

My savior has been Rally, an amazing crowdfunding site that allows you to make donations directly to causes you support and believe in. Rally’s site is the only one I could find in which I could directly post videos from YouTube -- perfect for someone whose language is inherently visual, as I communicate through American Sign Language. Through Rally, I’ve found a flexible, agile platform that allows me to build a community from all of my separate networks, a team of supporters who are as excited about this opportunity as I am.

I invite you to join me as I embark on this exciting journey, and I’d love to take you into the world of deaf sports, visual languages, and transport you to sand courts dotted across the globe. Through my sport I've been able to play in crazy places, like last fall, in September, when I switched to beach volleyball and played for the United States in the First World Deaf Beach Volleyball Championships in Alanya, Turkey. Competing in my first major international beach volleyball tournament at a venue right by the Mediterranean Sea -- sand, sky, ocean -- was an indelible experience.

The most eye-opening aspect of deaf international events for me was the fact that, unlike with other minorities, deaf people who use sign language have the ability to communicate across cultural and linguistic divides. Whether someone is from Bulgaria, the Netherlands, Ukraine, or Japan, they will sign and write in completely different language systems, but the visual nature of sign language is universal.

I once had a conversation with a Turkish deaf competitor who explained that Turkish athletes who captured a gold medal would get a house and land from their government. This is one of many amazing conversations I have had with international athletes over the years. Camaraderie and the fact that we share the universal experience of being deaf and using a visual language to communicate, are what make the Deaflympics so special.