One day can make the difference between having an alarm clock ring in the new moring to a vibrating pillow becoming your wake-up call.
One day can make the difference between hearing the chime of a doorbell signaling a visitor to seeing lights flashing across the room. When she was 19 years old, University of Colorado Boulder student Sarah Faust was involved in a rowing accident that left her deaf. Faust has been hard of hearing since birth, but in her first year on the CU Boulder crew team, an accidental clap on the ear by an oar caused her to lose her hearing.
Faust, now 21 years old, hasn’t let her past affect who she is and who she strives to be. She is learning how to balance her life as both a member of the Deaf and hearing community.
How exactly did you lose your hearing after the accident?
“I fell onto this spike on the dock and knocked myself out. [When I] came-to, didn’t realize I had a concussion, so I went home to my dorm. I went to sleep not realizing that was a bad thing, and I slept for two days. I woke up, and I couldn’t hear. Apparently, when I went to the doctor, they said I had severe brain swelling from the concussion that pinched off my cochlear nerve.”
What steps were taken to help you get better and feel normal again?
“I went to the doctor first; I didn’t tell my parents what happened yet. I didn’t tell my parents until about a month later after I found out my hearing wasn’t going to come back. And then I decided, you know what, I’m going to embrace this part of my life. There’s not a lot I can do about it.
“Lip reading came pretty naturally to me just because it’s what I had to rely on, and I’d been doing it since I was little. The biggest transition was the signing. I actually met with a couple of deaf people that my doctor introduced and they were like, ‘You know, the best way for you to go on with normal life is to learn how to sign and how to talk to people that are just like you.’ I was like, ‘I’m not any different than I was before. Physically, there’s something not there, but it doesn’t make me a different person and I’m not gonna stop doing what I like to do because of it.’”
You’re still rowing today. What got you back into rowing and on the water, instead of stopping out of fear?
“I’ve had a lot of medical issues growing up, and the one thing my parents taught me and my sister is that you can’t let the fear of something stop you from doing it. I knew from the second I sat in the boat on the water I loved the sport. It’s an amazing feeling being out there and rowing across a glassy surface — like you can see the mountains, you can feel the power. It’s probably the hardest workout, probably the hardest thing I’ll ever do mentally and physically. But it’s the most amazing, and freeing and self-empowering thing I’ve ever done. And I knew that if my team and coaches were willing to work with me, I was willing to work with them.
“What really helped is I had a coach at the time — she is like my second mom — her name is Jenny Withycombe. She kinda took me under her wing. She made sure I didn’t feel left out and that I didn’t feel like I was a problem. She made me feel like I was a part of a family. I think that’s the biggest thing, and the reason I’ve succeeded so far since losing my hearing is I’ve had such a great support system around me and such cool people that are so understanding and so supporting.”
So, you are a part of the Deaf community, but you also have many hearing friends and family. How have you merged the two together?
“That’s hard, because I haven’t. It’s something that I want to do, but it’s definitely hard. So I kind of feel adrift a little bit because I do have one foot in each community. Most of my friends are hearing, my family is hearing and most of my family and friends don’t know sign. So in that aspect, I pretend to be as hearing as possible. But then with my deaf friends, I don’t speak ever — like I don’t use my voice, I just sign. It’s hard to speak [and] it’s not easy to form words all the time. It’s easier to just sign.”
What is your advice for someone going through a similar situation with their hearing, or being discriminated for something they can’t control?
“Go out and find other people like yourself because when you have a community behind you and a support system, you no longer feel like you’re an outsider. Don’t give up, and don’t back down from a situation or a dream you have because of a physical and or mental disability that you might have.”
What would you say to the hearing community on the best way to help and accept the Deaf community?
“We’re not any different from you. A big thing in the Deaf community is, deaf people can do anything hearing people can do but hear. Don’t treat us like we’re less because we’re not. We’re the same people.”
Morgan Whitley is a student in CU Boulder journalism’s Reporting 2 class and wrote this story originally for that class.