Editor’s Note: This week, I’m pleased to offer this powerful story from Jonathan Nicoll, a teacher, a natural bodybuilder, and a positive thinker extraordinaire! Jonathan, a Canadian, was diagnosed at age 5 with severe to profound sensorineural hearing loss and wears bilateral digital behind-the ear hearing aids. He is a teacher of deaf and hard of hearing children, a caregiver for his mother, a certified nutrition coach, and a proud member of the Canadian Hard of Hearing Association.
By Jonathan Nicoll
Imagine this – waking up on the biggest day of your life thus far. You drive to an unfamiliar location and walk into a building that is filling up with people. Many of them look just as artificially dark as you do, with faces sunken yet focused and bodies entirely covered with baggy clothes on a warm day in mid-May. In the midst of organized chaos, you search for the head event organizer and explain your need for someone to assist you to understand the information being delivered by volunteers yelling in the backstage and through a microphone in a darkened auditorium. Here you are ready to compete in your first natural bodybuilding competition and you don’t know how you are going to understand the announcements that will be shared throughout the day.
This scenario paints the ultimate nightmare of a typical person who is hard of hearing, and it happened to me on May 13, 2012.
Was I going to let go of my dream to become and compete as a natural bodybuilder? No. Not after contacting the organization by various means and not hearing back, or after putting three years into transforming my physique, or after spending five months of serious training learning how to pose and leaning out by 45 pounds. Not after having met other Canadian youths who are hard of hearing and learning from them that their hearing loss did not deter them from realizing their dreams. Not after having relentlessly taught my own students about the importance of developing their skills of advocacy for themselves.
I had done my job. I had contacted the organization and prepared by learning the name of each pose that I would do and the order of doing them. I had talked with a Deaf natural bodybuilder, Joshua Ledbetter of Colorado, and a Hard of Hearing natural fitness competitor, Jayna Ameel of California. I had become confident and as mentally and physically excellent as I could be on the day of the competition.
With all of these tools in my fanny pack, I was ready to advocate for what I needed – information about what was going on while being in the backstage and what was being asked of me when posing on stage. Once I made myself understood, I faced a mixture of nonchalance and hesitation. I quickly and firmly explained that I required a volunteer who would repeat pertinent announcements while I was backstage and who could mimic the poses while being within my peripheral vision as I stood on the stage and posed accordingly. Presenting these two easy solutions was my ticket!
Growing up, I was the only hard of hearing person in my schools and communities. I had no role models to teach me how I could participate in activities that require teamwork and communication with my teammates. This was especially true in sports. I let my hearing loss define what I couldn’t do. I resigned myself to the thought that I would never be able to do many things that I longed to do.
But then, in July 2008, I attended the Canadian Hard of Hearing Association-International Federation of Hard of Hearing Congress in Vancouver. Among the nuggets of wisdom that I learned was Adam Ungstad’s line, “One’s comfort zone is one’s disability.” I heard from Monique Les, ”It’s not about how much hearing you have; it’s about what you do with the hearing that you have,” and I learned from Cai Glover’s approach to hearing while performing as a ballet dancer. I came back home seeing myself through a new lens: I am a person first and someone who has many interests and dreams and who happens to be Hard of Hearing. For the first time ever, I learned that I am not my hearing loss.
With these lessons, I eventually pursued my lifelong dream to lift weights and to become a bodybuilder. Since 2008, I have met many incredible like-minded people and learned how they succeeded in actualizing their dreams. Just as I learned from Adam, Monique, and Cai, I learned that if these people could do it, then surely I could too.
Despite the communication and listening challenges that so commonly arise in our everyday lives, I have learned to no longer empower them with the ability to stop me from doing what I wish to experience. I started doing my best with such circumstances through positive thinking, problem solving, and persevering. Because of this perspective, I staunchly believe there is always a way to solve a challenge; it’s just a matter of figuring out what solution will work for all of those people involved. I can proudly say that if I can do it, you can too!
As a friend once told me, never underestimate the power of one. I, therefore, wish to share this story because I wish to pay forward what Adam, Monique, and Cai have taught me. Now, what are you going to do with this story? The choice is yours.