Hearing impaired Olympic Athletes – True Champions!

Many thanks to my colleague editors at HHTM for a great two-week break.  Hopefully, Hearing International readers enjoyed the encore performance of some of the Best of Hearing International over the past couple of weeks.  Since the 2012 Olympics are currently going on in London, It seemed reasonable to discuss some recent hearing-impaired Olympians and their contribution to the Games.  There are a few hard-of-hearing athletes who have demonstrated that hearing impairment certainly does not impair their capability to participate and win medals, even Gold medals in the Olympics.

One of the first of hard-of-hearing Olympians was Jeff Float, who competed in the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics.  Born April 10, 1960, he suffered from viral meningitis, which took his hearing and almost his life.  Sources indicate that Mr. Float has a profound hearing loss in his right ear and a severe hearing  loss in the left ear. He became the only American legally deaf athlete to win a gold medal for his 4X200-meter freestyle relay.  He recalls emerging from the pool after swimming the third leg: he saw fists pumping in the stands, felt the vibrations of stomping feet against the pool deck and was surprised he could heard the roar of the crowd. “It was the first time I remember hearing distinctive cheers at a meet” says Float.   “I’ll never forget what 17,000 screaming people sound like. It was incredible.”

A minute later Bruce Hayes, swimming the anchor leg, held off West Germany’s Michael Gross, and Float, the swim team captain, became the only legally deaf athlete from the U.S. to win an Olympic gold medal.  Quite a day for Jeff, the US team and the hard of hearing.  Today, Jeff lives in Gold River, California and is the Aquatics Director at Gold River Raquet Club.

Terrance Parkin is a South African swimmer who was born on April 12, 1980. He participated in the 2000 Sydney Summer Olympics and won the silver medal in the 200 meters breaststroke.  Terrance has been swimming since he was 12 years old.  Since he could not hear,  Terrance’s coach would stand where he could signal Terrance when it was time to start the race.  Parkin is not only a swimmer but a cyclist as well.  He is very active in the Deaf Olympics, where he is a continuing champion medalist and record breaker in swimming (1997, 2001,  2005) and cycling (2006).  Prior to the 2000 Olympics, Parkin said about being deaf:

“I am going to the Olympics to represent South Africa, but it’s so vitally important for me to go, to show that the deaf can do anything. They can’t hear, but they can see everything. I would like to show the world that there’s opportunities for the deaf.”  What a fabulous example for hearing-impaired kids!

Frank Bartolillo is a Australian fencer who was born with profound deafness on December 22, 1981,  in Sydney.  Fencing is basically swordplay with two men (or women) dueling/fighting.  What comes to mind? Knights in armor with broadswords clanging? Swashbucklers like Errol Flynn crossing blades with the bad guy, dodging and jumping with acrobatic ease?  Today’s version is a long way from either of those scenes.  Now it is  ” … an art and a sport,” done with weapons like the foil, the epee, and the saber.  Participating in the 2004 Athens Summer Olympics, Frank used lipreading and signing for communcation.  Although he didn’t win a medal, he feels that his deafness is an advantage to him because . “ … there’s no distractions (like crowd noise) … I can concentrate more than my opponents …”   On the subject of his deafness, Bartolillo said: “I’m proud of being deaf … Deaf people can do everything …”   He continues to teach fencing in Australia and sets a superior example for all Olympic hopefuls with hearing loss.

Another hard-of-hearing Olympian is Tamika Catchings, an American Women’s National Basketball Association player who was born on July 21, 1979.  A graduate of the University of Tennessee, she participated in both the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens and the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing as a member of the USA Women’s Basketball Team, where she won a gold medal. Tamika, the daughter of Harvey Catchings, a retired NBA player, was a typical frustrated hearing-impaired child who threw her hearing aids away in the third grade, but has returned to their use as an adult.  Before being part of the current US team, she played for the Indiana Fever and a Turkish basketball team (Giant Glatasaray). Watch Tamika this week as a member of the US Woman’s Basketball team!  GO Tamika!

Chris Colwill is  an American diver born September 11, 1984 with a significant hearing impairment. Always an active kid, Colwill started out in gymnastics, baseball and soccer. After gymnastics practice one day, he saw divers practicing and wanted to try it.   In 2006, he won the NCAA title on 1-m and 3-m springboard and was the runner-up on platform, earning him the honor of NCAA Diver of the Year. At the 2007  Worlds, Colwill finished fourth on 1-m springboard .  He participated in the 2008 Summer Olympic Games in Beijing as a member of the United States Olympic team in diving.  Born and raised in Brandon, Fla., Chris made his Olympic debut during the 2008 Summer Olympics, competing in the 3-meter and 3-meter synchronized diving events. Colwill and his partner finished fourth, only a few points outside of earning a medal.  Colwill attended the University of Georgia and graduated in 2008 with a degree in speech communications and recently won the 3-m event at the 2012 U.S. Winter Nationals. He also now enjoys playing golf, using it as a distraction when he’s frustrated with diving, and is often seen at the University of Georgia course.

Congratulations to all the International Athletes from

Hearing International!

About Robert Traynor

Robert M. Traynor, Ed.D., MBA is the CEO and practicing audiologist at Audiology Associates, Inc., in Greeley, Colorado with particular emphasis in amplification and operative monitoring, offering all general audiological services to patients of all ages. Dr. Traynor holds degrees from the University of Northern Colorado (BA, 1972, MA 1973, Ed.D., 1975), the University of Phoenix (MBA, 2006) as well as Post Doctoral Study at Northwestern University (1984). He taught Audiology at the University of Northern Colorado (1973-1982), University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (1976-77) and Colorado State University (1982-1993). Dr. Traynor is a retired Lt. Colonel from the US Army Reserve Medical Service Corps and currently serves as an Adjunct Professor of Audiology at the University of Florida, the University of Colorado, and the University of Northern Colorado. For 17 years he was Senior International Audiology Consultant to a major hearing instrument manufacturer traveling all over the world providing academic audiological and product orientation for distributors and staff. A clinician and practice manager for over 35 years, Dr. Traynor has lectured on most aspects of the field of Audiology in over 40 countries. Dr. Traynor is the current President of the Colorado Academy of Audiology and co-author of Strategic Practice Management a text used in most universities to train audiologists in practice management, now being updated to a 2nd edition.


  1. Hi Bob ,
    My names Fred Martin .Im deaf and have competed in the 1984 Los Angeles olympic games. I was the first to Deaf athlete to do that representing Australia. For some unkown reason people always seem not to include me. I was also the youngest track and field to represent at the games as i was only 17. I do know Dean Smith and Frank the fencer.

  2. Nice to see a summary of all of these amazing athletes!!! Only suggestion would be to not keep using the term, “hearing impaired”. Thanks!

  3. I always love learning about hard of hearing athletes!! Love watching the olympics and sports!!!

    1. Tasha:

      Thanks for your comments….Looks like I missed one other hearing impaired athlete pointed out by a reader. Dean Barton-Smith of the 1992 Decathalon.

      Thanks for reading Hearing International


Comments are closed.