By: Sultana Anjum (07/14/17)
Meningitis took away Leroy Colombo’s ability to walk as well as hear when he was only seven years old. Although he was never able to hear again Leroy did recover the paralysis of his legs after he took up swimming to strengthen his lower body. In his lifetime he would save over nine hundred lives as a lifeguard in Galveston, Texas. There are a few specific reasons why Leroy’s story made an impression on me. First of all, he remained a deaf lifeguard for a majority of his life in his hometown on the Gulf of Mexico because he loved, more than anything, to swim. He made groundbreaking achievements; completing a fifteen mile swim in eleven hours, swimming through a dislocated arm, and plunging beneath burning oil to save the lives of crew men from a tugboat that burst into flames. Losing two very fundamental day-to-day abilities at the age of seven after recuperating from an illness is a strange, disheartening situation to find yourself in. Everything, including himself, has suddenly taken a foreign shape but right away, on the insistence of his two brothers, Leroy begins to swim and within one year is able to walk again. From this point on he remains a dedicated swimmer his entire life and chooses to stay on the local, popular beaches as a lifeguard among crowds of people, most of which, I imagine, he wasn’t able to communicate with through sign language. None of his lifeguard colleagues or hearing family members learned A.S.L. This is why Leroy Colombo is a favorite of mine; he chose his life despite the circumstances. He chose to swim, to live and work near the water; that was what mattered to him. He let his passion guide a potential to ultimately become a great lifeguard, a potential that many people would see as a shortcoming. Instead of relying on hearing, Leroy focused on visual cues to detect when someone may be in danger. He spent much of his time surrounded by hearing people; he was well known in the community and saved many lives which in itself supports the notion that the Deaf community is equal and is in no way disadvantaged.