By Caleb De Vries
My hearing loss is moderate; I hear highs and lows well but it is the middle of the spectrum where most human voices fall where I have trouble. Conversations can be very difficult, especially in noisy environments.
I first received hearing aids when I was 15 but was teased for wearing them; I felt different and somehow less than my peers. As a result I didn’t wear them for many years and struggled to find ways to cope without them.
This provided a challenge for me academically. I hid in the classroom, avoided answering questions, and as a defense mechanism I acted aloof. The gym was the one place where I really felt at home. I excelled in ice hockey, track, volleyball, and basketball.
I spent hours by myself every day after school mastering ball handling and shooting skills for basketball, and stick handling, inline skating, and shooting skills for hockey. I was very passionate about learning new and creative ways to teach myself how to improve. This passion led me to coach a variety of sports and to pursue bachelor degrees in education and physical education.
I wore hearing aids during university classes but they did not help much, as they were not working well and were too old to fix. I couldn’t afford to buy new hearing aids because they are extremely expensive, but about two years ago my sister Nadine [who works for HHF] paid for my new hearing aids—and they have changed my life.
Now when I teach and play sports it is very different; voices are much easier to hear and I do not have to spend as much energy trying to hear my teammates or students. When playing sports, I wear a headband to protect my hearing aids and to prevent them from falling out.
I am the program coordinator for Fit Kids Healthy Kids in Winnipeg, Canada. This is run by a nonprofit organization, Sport Manitoba, whose goal is to encourage as many kids to be active as we can. We aim to provide opportunities for children to develop the confidence and competence to participate in any activity and to ultimately become active for life.
Many of the families I work with are recent immigrants whose first language is not English. My hearing loss is beneficial in this situation because it has led me to be a very visual and physical teacher. As a child I had learned by watching my favorite athletes and studying their movements, not by hearing them explain how they execute a skill.
I do not know whether I excelled in sports because of—or despite—having a hearing loss. I had to try harder to hear my coaches and teammates but it also caused me to have a high level of attention to detail, helping me develop my teaching style. When teaching I take every opportunity to give visual cues and demonstrations. In some ways this type of instruction can level the playing field for those who have trouble understanding verbal communication, whether because of hearing loss or because it is a foreign language.
My perceived disability has given me the ability to become more empathetic toward the kids who struggle with poor self-esteem and a fear of failure. When I was young I believed that I wasn’t good at math or science. The truth is I never knew how good I could be at these subjects because I was too afraid to fail.
It is the same fear that I see in kids who believe they are not athletic. Most often they are just too afraid to try because trying presents the possibility of failure. Helping a child overcome this fear is the most rewarding part of my job; it is such an incredible sense of accomplishment to know that I play a small role in this crucial step toward their development.