Another great win by ‘silent assassin’ – Deaflympian champion, Rajeev Bagga – in last month’s European Senior Badminton Men’s Doubles, inspired us to look back at some of history’s best Deaf sports stars
“My highlight has to be winning the gold medal at the 2009 Deaflympics in Taipei for mixed doubles. I played the best tennis of my career and achieving a gold medal – at the highest level in any sport – is the realisation of a lifetime ambition of mine. To have achieved that was an unforgettable experience. Another special memory was winning the British Open in 2002 after being a set down, 5 -1 down and saving seven match points in the final.
“Along with the Tennis Foundation I’m trying really hard to promote Deaf tennis and give it the recognition it deserves. My husband Lewis and I are very competitive but in a very healthy way and it’s what makes our relationship work. We’re both very passionate about deaf tennis – as we appreciate the opportunities it has given us. We are working hard to get more development and grassroot structures in place so we can find more players interested in playing Deaf tennis.”
One of the world’s most pre-eminent Para-equestrian riders, UK-based Singaporean Tan developed cerebral palsy and profound deafness after birth. Doctors informed her parents that she’d likely never walk again, prompting her to take up horse riding as a form of physiotherapy. And she never looked back.
A double bronze medallist at the Beijing 2008 Paralympic Games, she also took silver and bronze at the London 2012 Paralympics Games. As a result, she was awarded the Public Service Star, named the Straits Times Athlete of the Year, voted UK’s Deaf Overseas Sports Athlete of the Year, and inducted in the Singapore Women’s Hall of Fame. Now, she has her sights set on competing at the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio De Janeiro and at the World Equestrian Games in 2018.
“I’ll never forget winning the silver medal in London 2012 Paralympic Games. It was really awesome to be able to compete in the city of London, where I’ve lived for so many years. Although I represented Singapore, I had so many people from all over the UK come and watch me – the whole experience was just beyond words!
“One moment that sticks out in my mind was when I had just finished my Freestyle to Music performance. My horse was being inspected, and my coach, Volker stayed behind to keep his eyes on the scoreboard. Volker came running around the corner, he did a jump and punched the air with the biggest smile on his face! Fortunately, I had my BSL interpreter with me, otherwise I would not have known the score and position because everyone was so excited!
“Although many people may think I am at a disadvantage because I can’t hear the music that I perform to, I believe my deafness has helped enhance my sensitivity to the horse. I am able to feel the rhythm more through the horse, ‘listen’ to the horse’s feelings, observe and ‘communicate’ accordingly. I trust my horses, they are my ‘ears’ too. Without the distractions of sounds, I am also able to focus more on the riding – my dressage tests, the horse and the movements.
“I try to stay fit by eating well, drinking plenty of water and riding and exercising. But you don’t have to be sporty to be ‘active’. Just do an activity you enjoy, even if that means going to the park for a walk or just being out in the community. Sometimes challenging ourselves to take a small risk can be healthy and rewarding too, like learning something new – anything that takes you out of your comfort zone.”
Not only was she just 16 years old when she attended her first Deaflympics in Melbourne, but athletics protégée, Lauren Peffers won a gold and silver medal too. Add to that a gold and silver medal win at her first European Deaf Games in Tallinn, Estonia, plus she has broken European records twice in the 800m and 1,500m events. Now, she has taken a year out of athletics to recharge before contemplating her next challenge.
“I train six days a week – with Friday set as my only rest day. My coach, Dave Robinson does different training sessions so I could turn up at training and not know what I’m going to be doing until we all arrive at training.
“I try my best to eat healthy as my coach and my fiancé, Jason Steadman help me to keep my diet balanced, and both support and motivate me to hit the gym to keep my fitness and pinpoint areas that I need to work on.
“I’d love to see more young children, as young as eight and nine introduced to athletics. It was only after I did a cross country at school, that I got involved in the athletics club – that went on to shape my career! An athletics club coach spotted me – if it wasn’t for him I don’t think I would of had this life in athletics!”
Profoundly Deaf since birth, Cindy-Lu Fitzpatrick (Bailey) OAM is one of the world’s most accomplished swimmers, representing Australia at two Commonwealth Games, numerous international meets and having competed at six Deaflympics Games spanning 20 years.
Unable to hear the starter’s gun Cindy had to rely on vibrations or watch the reflexes of the swimmer next to her to prompt her to start. Often having the slowest reaction time off the blocks due to her deafness meant that Cindy had to work her way from the back of the field to the front. Despite this she was ranked in the top 16 on the 1982 Speedo World Rankings list.
At just 12 years of age she won the first of her many medals with a bronze in 1977 at the Romanian Deaflympics. Then at 16 she set new Australian records in winning both the Australian and American national open age (non Deaf) championships in the 100 and 200 metre breaststroke. At the Deaflympics, she dominated winning the 100/200 metre breaststroke double at five successive Games from 1981 till her retirement from international swimming in 1997 – winning 19 gold, 4 silver and 5 bronze medals.
In 1985 she was awarded the OAM and was given the honour of lighting the cauldron at the 2005 Deaflympic Games in Melbourne – becoming the only woman to be given such an opportunity in Deaflympic history!
She now works at the University of Newcastle as an Auslan teacher, as well as a Technical Director of swimming for the International Committee of Sports for the Deaf which is the governing body of the Deaflympics.
Reflecting on her success, she says her two “beautiful girls, Tara and Lily” are her greatest personal achievement, along with her first Deaflympics in 1977 in Romania and both Commonwealth Games in Brisbane in 1982 and 1986 in Edinburgh.
In 2013 Cindy-Lu was voted as Australia’s Top 100 Sportswomen of all time with a ranking of 56th.
“One of the best things about being a Deaf sportsperson is travelling the world and racing with elite deaf athletes.” Her advice to aspiring young Deaf athletes is “be the best you can. Don’t give up”.
See more of Cindy-Lu – click here to watch video
Considered one of the USA’s best Deaf tennis players, Brad Minns won numerous world deaf championships and took home the gold medal in the 1985 World Games for the Deaf in Los Angeles.
“I’ll never forget winning the World Games for the Deaf Tennis Championships in 1985 held in Los Angeles. I came back from being down two sets to zero and five games to zero in the third to win my first gold medal. It was my first experience around the Deaf community and Deaf sports.
“Since then I’ve played and coached in numerous Deaf Tennis Championships including this past summer’s Dresse Cup held in Chattanooga, Tennessee.
An author and now coach, he’s also trained and competed in numerous bodybuilding competitions, even meeting his boyhood hero, Arnold Schwarzenegger!
“I try to live a healthy lifestyle which includes daily exercise of weightlifting, rowing and tennis. At 49 years old I still have a lot of dreams and goals I aim for.”
Published in BDN November 2014 issue