Inspiring Elite Athletes With Hearing Loss

When you think of professional and Olympic athletes in high profile, physically demanding sports, you probably envision strong individuals with perfect physiques. While it is crucial for these athletes to remain in excellent condition in order to make a living, some compete at high levels with physical challenges such as hearing loss. If you or a member of your family suffers from a form of deafness and are involved in competitive sports, you may be inspired by the following list of world-class athletes who excelled despite their hearing challenges.

Olympic Swimmer Jeff Float

While Olympic gold medalist Jeff Float has the perfect last name for his sport, he performed at the highest level with less than perfect hearing. When he was an infant he contracted viral meningitis, an acute inflammation of lining around the spinal cord and brain. The infection left him without hearing.

However, deafness did not stop Float from becoming an expert swimmer, winning state championships in high school and earning an athletic scholarship.

When he was 24, he made the U.S. national swimming team and competed in the 1984 Summer Games in Los Angeles. Float took home a gold medal in the men's 4 x 200-meter freestyle relay.

With his competitive swimming days behind him, Float inspires others as a motivational speaker and swimming coach.

WNBA Star Tamika Catchings

When Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant was a youngster playing with the children of his dad's teammates on the Philadelphia 76ers, his pals included WNBA star and three-time Olympic gold medalist Tamika Catchings.

As the daughter of former NBA player Harvey Catchings, she inherited impressive athletic genes. However, her journey to basketball stardom began when kids would tease her about her speech problems due to hearing impairment. Catchings has hearing loss in both ears. As a child, she wore clunky hearing aids that caused her to be the target of bullies.

However, basketball became her refuge from mean kids and she went on to play for legendary coach Pat Summitt at Tennessee, leading her team to a national championship in 2000.

As a professional, Catchings wears specially designed in-the-ear hearing aids when she is on the court performing as one of the top professional women's basketball players of all time.

Former NBA Player Lance Allred

Even after Lance Allred reached the highest level of collegiate basketball, a spot on a roster at an NCAA Division I school in a major conference, he still had to endure abuse from those who made fun of his hearing impairment.

Allred has 80 percent hearing loss but his basketball skills helped him become one of the best high school players in the nation. He started his collegiate career at Utah but transferred after two years to Weber State due to the constant verbal abuse he suffered from the team's coach.

Still, NBA teams took notice of Allred at a smaller school and he played briefly for the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Currently, Allred provides opportunities for children with hearing impairments to learn basketball skills via camps he hosts in his home state of Utah.

NFL Player Derrick Coleman

After deaf professional football player Derrick Coleman completed an outstanding college career at UCLA, he went undrafted during his senior year of college. During that time, he wondered if his hearing impairment caused teams to pass him over. However, for Coleman, sitting out a year before getting picked up by the Seattle Seahawks was a struggle that did not compare to being born with a genetic impairment that left him without hearing.

As a child he wore large hearing aids and bullies teased him about the devices, calling him horrible names. When he was nine, a group of kids attacked him and ripped his hearing aids out of his ears.

Coleman withdrew from socializing with other kids but when it came to football, he excelled. With the help of an audiologist he learned how to read lips and the skill helped him decipher plays called out by coaches and teammates.

When the Seahawks took a chance on Coleman he became the first-ever deaf offensive player in the NFL. He reached the highest level of the sport when he played on the Seahawks team that won the 2013 Super Bowl.