I’m not much of an athlete. (For a more accurate statement, eliminate the ‘much of’.)
But recently, when the scales told me it was time for some exercise, I decided to train for a 5-kilometre race (that’s 3 miles, in American). I want to be able to say, “I’m a runner” with that granola-smug look of marathoners and lose a couple of kilos (a few pounds) while I’m at it.
On the first two runs, I learned that I don’t like running with my hearing aids. The weather was damp and drizzly and I worried about moisture getting into them. Protective headgear was out because I just don’t do hats. But even more bothersome than the moisture was the noise.
The smack of feet pounding the pavement.
The vroom of passing cars.
The rasp of my own ragged breathing (this after only one block!)
On the third day, I ran deaf. My hearing loss is severe to profound, so when those techno-babies come out of my ears, my brain discerns nothing. And on my run, nothing is what I heard – no feet, no vehicles, no breathing. I loved it.
But I was also cautious about my safety. The sun was up and I ran on paved sidewalks, well away from the curb. I kept up a 360º lookout – front, back, up, down and sideways –for possible hazards such as bicycles, people or, horror of horrors, dogs who don’t like runners. I steered clear of busy intersections and at small stop streets, I “looked to the left, looked to the right, and looked to the left again” in search of turning cars. I avoided lonely stretches of parkland, on the remote chance that I might not hear a mugger coming up behind me.
And despite the mild stress of constant surveillance, it was the most peaceful run I’d ever had. The trees were flowering and I swear that I smelled the blossoms, the grass and the rainy air more keenly than if I’d been running with sound. (A number of years ago, a friend commented on my keen sense of smell, and wondered if perhaps this sense was actively compensating for my decreased sense of hearing. I suppressed my first reaction – a withering, “are ya stupid?” kind of look – because she’s very intelligent and she’s my friend. But like many people personally untouched by hearing loss, she may have believed the myth that if one sense is weak, the other senses become stronger, e.g., people with hearing loss have better vision. Well, my vision isn’t so great either, but I’ve learned to depend on visual cues.) Whatever the reason, I enjoyed the sights and smells along my running route better than the day before.
Today, a couple of weeks later, I ran with my hearing aids. I must be in better shape because my breathing is less shallow and my feet aren’t hitting the ground like cement blocks. To avoid the sound of traffic, I followed a quieter, more peaceful street and park route. Many joggers run to music, but using my iPod-telecoil-neckloop combination distracts me from my attention to safety. Besides, my t-coil buzzes beneath the overhead wires, and avoiding the static would mean having to run down the middle of the street – and how safe is that?
Running is the only sport, apart from swimming and sit-ups, that I would ‘do deaf.’ Playing ping-pong with my husband without hearing aids made me dizzy; I needed the sound of the ping and the pong to keep me balanced in the game. And I enjoy the satisfying ‘thud’ of the ball aimed directly at the chest of Mr. Ping-Pong-Champion-of-the-World himself.
Yoga has so far been unsuccessful. In my first class, the room was darkened and the instructor had a lip-covering moustache. Because I couldn’t read his lips or hear his soft-voiced instructions, I watched my husband’s attempts at oral interpretation while trying to copy his yoga movements. My husband is 6-foot, 6-inches of inflexibility and we were not a pretty sight. My friend dragged me to another yoga class where the instructor made us lie on the floor – eyes closed, please! – for visualization exercises. I closed my eyes and went to sleep.
Exercise classes are a damned-if-you-do-and-damned-if-you-don’t situation for people with hearing loss. The noise is so intense that I can feel the beat in every part of my body, even without my hearing aids. But when you’re doing stuff you hate, like jumping jacks, lunges and stomach crunches, hearing the music helps to lessen the pain. But a question for instructors and gym owners: must the music be 100 decibels?! As a hearing health advocate, it drives me crazy to think of all these fitness instructors who may soon have a significant noise-induced hearing loss.
Regular exercise helps lower stress levels and people with hearing loss need all the stress-reduction we can get. I’m still looking for an accessible yoga class, but my 5K training is coming along, safely, one step at a time.