Deaf and Hard of Hearing Athletes

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Deaf people can do anything except hear. There are famous Deaf entertainment such as acting, signing music, comedians, inspirational speakers, but there are also many famous Deaf or Hard of Hearing athletes of various sports including bodybuilding, football, wrestling, motocross racing, etc. Below are a few examples of many Deaf athletes who they did not let their disability get in the way of who they are and going after their dreams. Many of the Deaf athletes struggled with their deafness as many people couldn’t see past it, but no matter what, these Deaf athletes found a way to get recognized for their talents despite of their deafness. You can read more about other Deaf athletes here.

Shelley Beattie

Shelley Beattie was a professional bodybuilder. Beattie was abused and was in and out of foster cares. She pumped iron so no man would ever hurt her again, dealt with drug use within that culture, grew up deaf, realized she was gay, and struggled with bipolar disorder and depression. Beattie was the oldest of the four children and she was very active and emotionally energetic. She stated, “The only thing I can’t do is hear.” For Beattie, she did not view her deafness as a disability. She read lips and spoke so well that people did not initially think she was deaf. Beattie became deaf when she was three years old from accidentally swallowing a bottle of aspirin. She attended Western Oregon University. During her time there, she began her bodybuilding career. She started off winning amateur bodybuilding competitions. In the late 1980s, fame happened, and she followed where it led her. After she become a pro, she traveled the world, earned a lot of money, and received a lot of film offers. She met a trainer named John Romano who became her manager and companion. She won third place in Ms. International and Ms. Olympia. She got hired to portray Siren on American Gladiator for 44 episodes. Beattie’s proudest achievement was being part of a team. She made the America3 win second place in the 1990s. Beattie’s years of fame was a brutal lifestyle. She experienced a knee injury, drugs, and around age 29, she was diagnosed with bipolar. She left John and went into drug rehab. She became sober from using drugs, but still struggled with bipolar and couldn’t find medication that helped her. She reconnected with her mother and father, got jobs caring for people with disabilities, got involved in AA, had a brief marriage, before meeting and moving in with a female partner, Julie, at about age 35. Her goal was to work at the school for the deaf in Salem, but her bipolar disorder got worse, and she lost numerous jobs. Later, Beattie received a cochlear implant and was able to hear a lot of sounds for the first time since she was a child. Her doctor mentioned that her bipolar disorder will get worse and it did. She was so mentally ill that she had to be hospitalized. The cycles of the illness became more rapid and eventually, she became depressed. She was in a care facility for six weeks when she hanged herself. She lived four days but never regained consciousness and died Feb. 16, 2008. She was 40. Her corneas were used in transplants for two blind people.

Derrick Coleman

“Everybody, at the end of the day, we all have something in common. We all just want to have fun. We all just want to be treated equally. People say, ‘Oh, you’re a football player.’ No, I’m myself, who happens to play football and who happens to be hard of hearing. I know my entire life I just wanted to be treated like everybody else.”

Coleman became legally deaf when he was three years old from a genetic disorder. He wears two hearing aids and wears a panty hose his mother cut up to place over his ears to keep his hearing aids in while playing. He attended Troy High School in Fullerton, California and played college football as a fullback for UCLA. He was undrafted with Minnesota Vikings because of his deafness. In 2012, despite of his deafness, his talent as a football player was recognized and he signed with Seattle Seahawks. The Seahawks won the Super Bowl 48 in 2014, and celebrating the victory was one of Coleman’s best memories. Coleman then signed with the Atlanta Falcons in 2017, and the Arizona Cardinals in 2018. Coleman used his lip-reading skills to adapt during loud games, getting his team mates to mouth instructions to him when he couldn’t hear them being yelled out.

“Growing up with hearing loss had its challenges,” Coleman said in an interview with Chattanooga Times. “But me having a competitive nature helped turn them into advantages! I can read lips really well since I was mainstreamed in school with no sign language education or community… Sometimes in loud away games, a teammate or two will ask me what was said in the huddle, ME, a hard of hearing/deaf player! Make the best with what you got! People say, ‘So how do you hear the snap count?’ I move when the ball moves. If the ball doesn’t move, I don’t move.”

Matt Hamill

Matt Hamill known as ‘The Hammer’ is a mixed martial artist and wrestler who competed in the Light Heavyweight division of the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC).  He stated, “[Wrestling] taught me the meaning of life. I also learned that, whether I win or lose, it’s important to have fun.” Hamill was born deaf and communicates using American Sign Language. He got into wrestling because of his stepfather who was a wrestling coach at Loveland High School. Hamill says that from the age of 27, wrestling became his passion and helped him come to terms with his deafness. “I didn’t see any deaf people involved in wrestling. It was difficult to read lips and follow what was happening. Communication was an issue for me. I had to watch demonstrations to learn wrestling,” Hamill has said in an interview with DEAF Inc. Hamill attended Purdue University for a year, then later transferred to Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) for 3 years. While he was at RIT, he is a three-time NCAA Division III National Champion in wrestling. Additionally, Hamill has a silver medal in Greco-Roman Wrestling and a gold medal in Freestyle Wrestling from the 2001 Summer Deaflympics. He is the only man to defeat Jon Jones. Deaf actor Russell Harvard played Hamill in the movie known as The Hammer that was released in 2010. This movie portrayed Hamill’s early life and his wrestling career.

Ashley Fiolek

“I just want them to know if you dream about something, work hard, put the right people around you, anything is possible. But you have to do the work. You can never give up. You just have to keep going.”

Ashley Fiolek is a professional motocross racer and current stunt actor. She was born deaf and communicates through American Sign Language. When Fiolek was 3, her parents bought her Yamaha PW50 that had training wheels, when she was 7, she began racing, and when she was 17, she began her professional motocross racing career. Fiolek has won many awards and accolades, including the Women’s Motocross (WMX) Championship four times, in 2008, 2009, 2011, and 2012. In 2009, Fiolek won her first X Games gold medal in Women’s Moto X Super X at the extreme sports championships known as X Games 15. This made her the X Games’ first deaf medalist, and the youngest ever Women’s Motocross Association champion. She was also the first woman to be signed to the American Honda Racing factory team. Fiolek retired from motocross in 2012. Since that time, she has made multiple television appearances, including being the first Deaf guest to appear on the TV talk show, Conan. In 2014, she joined the Marvel Universe Live show and tours with the show as a motorcycle stunt performer. Today, she is acknowledged as “revolutionizing women’s motocross.”


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