Deaf Dream Team

Sport, we either love it or hate it. We’re either gripped by every single moment of action, or we couldn’t care less. Some feel that many athletes are overpaid for their profession and cannot wait to knock them off their pedestal.  Here we look at our pick for the Deaf Dream team.

We are not here to start a debate about who deserves this and who doesn’t deserve that. We believe that we are all masters of our own destinies, and we all have a choice to work hard and earn a decent living! (Not forgetting that all of us face challenges in life, that are not always known to the general public)

Whether you love sports or not, I’m sure we can agree that sport puts a lot of physical and emotional strain on the human body. The hard work and sheer determination needed to make it as a professional and to reach the very top are not in question.


The harder I practice, the luckier I get” as the famous golfer Gary Player once said.


So what does it take to become a great athlete?


What qualities are required to reach your goals? (And anything in life, in fact) Here are some must-have attributes:

–          Drive – You must always strive for greater results each time and not be content with past achievements.

–          Discipline – You must follow strict dietary and training requirements.

–          Selfconfidence – You always have to have faith in yourself and believe you can do it against all the odds.

–          Commitment – You either put every last fibre of your being into making it or fall short.

–          Tolerance – You will feel your progress physically and always need to keep your mind clear.

–          Adaptability – You need to adapt to the ever-changing environment and scenarios that will try to derail you, keep focused, prepare well and tackle it head-on.

–          Emotional Maturity – You can’t let your emotions take control; you can’t let them faze you.


So How Does That Relate To Us?


It can be hard, whatever your circumstances, to keep the fire burning inside you to keep going. We all need that extra fuel to keep us pushing through hard times and achieving our goals.

That’s why here at terptree, we have compiled a list of 5 inspirational and determined deaf athletes who didn’t let anything stand in their way and simply did not take no for an answer!


Daniel Ailey

Now he’s not exactly a British household name, he is only semi-professional, after all, but Daniel Ailey truly fits of this list. You’ll be hard-pressed to find someone more determined than him!

Using BSL as his main source of communication, Daniel has to make vocal noises to attract the attention of his teammates.

During a game when Daniel’s Potters Bar Town came up against Grays Athletic, the opposing fans mocked these vocal sounds, and the referee halted the game whilst the police were called in.


He Didn’t Quit

Now if you thought some close-minded, goby, simpletons were going to cause Daniel to quit, then you’re sadly mistaken!

He didn’t quit when he was rejected by Doncaster Rovers as a youngster.

He didn’t quit when he missed a year out injured with a broken leg.

Daniel is too determined and focused on letting anything stop him. Being Deaf is of no concern to him; it’s a part of who he is.

Physically and emotionally warn out, it doesn’t matter, give him a football, and he’ll let his feet do the talking!

I can only imagine how it must’ve felt to suffer such abuse and have little way to combat it directly but fair play to Daniel, he got on with life and tackled it the best way he knew how. By continuing to play the sport he loves, with not a care in the world.

Ailey has been abused on the pitch before. “A defender I played against once took the piss out of me. But I let my feet do the talking. I have a strong mind. I keep going”.

Daniel Ailey takes the 1st spot in our Deaf Dream Team.


Did You Know?

–     Daniel does welding work to supplement his wages.

–     He has represented the Great Britain Deaf football team.

–     Ailey holds the FDFC (Fulham Deaf Football Club) record of most goals scored in a season. 47 in the 2009/2010 season.



Ben Cohen

Oh, how I’m sure the England rugby team wishes they had a player like him now. After a disappointing World Cup last year, crashing out in the group stage, it’s nice to look back on past glories that the likes of Ben Cohen brought England.

With roughly 30-33% hearing loss that has now worsened to 50% and tinnitus, his achievements in rugby cannot be overlooked, and he is one of the greatest English players of recent generations.

He has been involved in efforts to make rugby more accessible to young deaf players, making him the perfect role model in the sporting world. We at terptree, and I’m sure you’ll also agree, want a player of his calibre back in the England team!

In early 2004, barely months after lifting the World Cup with England, Ben found out he was losing his hearing. He may be an England Rugby legend but even the mighty need help at times. Even the big, strong, tough are human underneath it all, and Ben would refuse to wear a hearing aid.

It wasn’t until another inspirational member of the Deaf community rang him up that Ben started to make a positive change.


Elton John

Yes, that’s right, Elton John rang Ben and said, “I hear you’re deaf. I love the work you’re doing, and I’d love to help you. When you’re next in America, I’m going to send you over to Starkey and fit you out with new state-of-the-art hearing aids. While you’re there, you might as well see the head guy, the owner.”

Since retiring from rugby, Ben has set up a charity to tackle issues with bullying and, in particular, homophobia. This, in turn, led to the charity and its work catching the attention of Sir Elton John. He is an ambassador for the Starkey Hearing Foundation, a charity that helps children who suffer hearing loss in 3rd World countries get access to better education and treatment.

“I’m into the profound hearing loss category. I’m going Deaf,” says Ben. “Certain sounds, such as the letters T and K, I can’t really hear at all. But my new hearing aids are directional, so they pick up the sound in front of me, like the person I’m talking to, more than background noise.

“I’ve got a remote control with it that can muffle the sound in, say, a crowded bar, so it’s not too intense. They also gave me headphones that fit into your ear that I can link up to the TV.”


Did You Know?

–         Cohen is the 10th-highest point scorer in England rugby history, and 3rd behind Rory Underwood and Will Greenwood in the list of all-time England try scorers.

–         Despite being straight, the former rugby star has become an international gay icon, helping thousands of homosexuals and transgender people break boundaries both on and off the sports field.

–         He started ‘The Ben Cohen Stand Up Foundation’ to combat bullying after his dad was killed standing up against bullies.

–         Cohen also appeared in the 11th series of the celebrity dancing contest Strictly Come Dancing. He was the 8th celebrity to leave.



Matt Hamill’s “The Hammer”

Not one to mess with. Born Deaf, Matt Hamill is an American mixed martial artist and wrestler who last competed in the Light Heavyweight division of the UFC. He actually attended the Rochester Institute of Technology.

He can’t hear the crowd cheering, his entrance music or his corner giving him instructions but once he’s in the octagon, his eyes are focused and locked onto his opponent, ready to show the world what he’s got.

He’s an inspirational figure to Deaf athletes and the Deaf community around the world because he represents its people. Every time he enters the cage, he becomes a unifying figure of perseverance for thousands of people across the globe.

“I’m more like a bastion in the Deaf community around the world,” he says. “I travel for promotional opportunities and speak in front of 8,000 people. They call it Deaf Nation. Now I am getting more Deaf fans. I’m getting 3,000 emails every week. My Facebook’s blowing up, and I can’t keep up, with different languages such as Portuguese, Russian and Swedish. The Deaf community is very important to me.”

The “hammer” sign has become a signature notion for the Deaf community that supports him.

“It’s never been easy, through childhood, thinking of who I am. By the time I got older, I knew who I was and I am happy with whom I am. Being born Deaf, thinking I might have a good gift. Maybe I’d rather not hear.”

Hamill went on the reality show ‘The Ultimate Fighter 3’ and was instantly made fun of. Solely because he was Deaf, they underestimated his wrestling ability. He’s not fussed about what label is placed upon him; he’ll just brush it off, work hard and show the world what he’s got. Even in the face of an adversary, he is an optimist.

Hamill also travels the United States, visiting Deaf schools, speaking about his experiences and inspiring generations of deaf and hearing children.

Matt has shown us how to triumph over the doubters, showing us all, as members of the Deaf community, we can achieve our goals and desires no matter the challenge.


Did You Know?

–          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 (on a disqualification) the former UFC Light Heavyweight Champion and former #1 pound-for-pound fighter in the world, Jon Jones.

–          Is the subject of a movie about his life entitled ‘The Hammer’, which is also his in-ring nickname.


Terence Parkin

Now we have a South African Olympian, earning the silver medal at the 2000 Summer Olympics in the 200-metre breaststroke at the age of just 20 years old. Terence Parkin also competed in the 2004 Summer Olympics.

He uses sign language to communicate with his coach. Parkin said about his trip to the Olympics, “I am going to the Olympics to represent South Africa, but it’s so vitally important for me to go, to show that the Deaf can do anything. They can’t hear; they can see everything. I would like to show the world that there are opportunities for the Deaf.”


In the Deaflympics, there simply is no better athlete than his Olympic counterpart Michael Phelps, having acquired more medals, including more gold medals.


Parkin once used waterproof hearing aids when competing, but all the crowd noise disturbed him and made him nervous. He found it hard to ‘focus’. Now, without the aids, there is a quiet atmosphere for the swimmer. Parkin can concentrate without audible interference and focus on his goals for the race.

Terence doesn’t get the recognition he deserves, and even in the country, he represents, he isn’t widely celebrated. Having been Deaf nearly all his life, winning a silver medal against hearing opponents at just 20 is an outstanding achievement and a true inspiration for the Deaf community. Like the others in our deaf dream team, showing no obstacle is too big to stop you from acquiring greatness.


Did You Know?

–          Terence Parkin is the most successful athlete in the history of the Deaflympics.

–          In 2011, Parkin saved a young boy from drowning.

–          At one point, he held every single Deaflympic record in short-course swimming.

–          He also competes in cycling events.

–          His nickname is ‘The Silent Tornado’.



Marsha Wetzel

Not typically what you’d think of when you say ‘athlete’, but nonetheless, being a referee still requires physical and mental strength, maybe even more so with some of the abuse that gets directed their way.

Introducing Marsha Wetzel, the first woman to referee in the history of NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) Division 1 women’s basketball. She is an instructor from the National Technical Institute for the Deaf (NTID) at Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT). She works with RIT’s 1,100 Deaf and hard-of-hearing students and supports those who are involved in RIT’s intercollegiate athletic and intramural programs. As we said in our post about RIT, it is the place to be for deaf people.

Her responsibilities include teaching Wellness for Life and Wellness Activity classes to Deaf students, including basketball officiating. Wetzel also provides support to Deaf and hard-of-hearing intramural teams and officials and serves as a student club advisor for RIT’s Deaf Basketball Association.

Her inclusion of officiating in the league has positively impacted both the league and the Deaf community, promoting equal opportunity and diversity. As well as being a great role model for deaf people.


She has earned her status and role purely on merit, and it is a credit to her hard work and determination that she is where she is today.


Of course, one of the toughest elements of any referee’s job is the abuse from the fans and coaches, but Wetzel simply states, “The best way to deal with the coaches is to avoid making bad calls.” She has her mind focused on the game at hand, and being Deaf is of no drawback to her.

Wetzel wants to help more Deaf people become referees and is working on a basketball videotape in ASL (Which will help instruct Deaf people how/when to make calls and how to handle themselves and others on the basketball court). What a brilliant idea to allow access for Deaf people. It is pioneers like this that we need in the Deaf community, in order to inspire and show what’s possible!

“There are communication barriers when not with an interpreter. It requires strong will, faith and a desire and determination,” she said.

“Marsha is an exemplary role model for all of our students at RIT,” said Robert R. Davila, CEO of NTID and vice president at RIT. “She proves that education, hard work and commitment eliminate any obstacles people think they have toward realizing their dreams.”


Did You Know?

–   Wetzel represented the United States at two Deaflympics, playing on the USA Women’s Basketball teams in 1985 in Los Angeles, CA and in 1989 in New Zealand.

–    She earned Coach of the Year Award after just 1 year of coaching girls’ varsity basketball at the Model Secondary School for the Deaf in Washington, D.C., from the International Association of Approved Basketball Officials.

–   Wetzel is close friends with Dee Kantner, who was the first female referee in the NBA.


You Can Do It

I hope you have enjoyed reading about terptree’s inspirational Deaf Dream Team today. As you can see from the list of just a handful of outstanding Deaf athletes, they come in many shapes, sizes and backgrounds.

It just shows that we should never judge a book by its cover or assume that dreams can’t be realised. All these athletes went through the pain and suffering needed to make it. This is a set of highly motivated and determined deaf individuals that wouldn’t let anything get in the way of their goals, and you shouldn’t either.

The next time someone treats you differently or says you can’t do something simply because you’re Deaf, show them what you’ve got!

If you can think of anyone other Deaf athletes or topics, we could discuss, then feel free to comment and let us know. We love interacting with you all here at terptree; we don’t bite. We play hard and work harder.

Who knows, maybe we’ll see one of you on a list like this in the future…..