INDIANAPOLIS–Tamika Catchings became the latest in a long line of great athletes who didn’t let hearing loss stop them from reaching the pinnacle of their profession. On September 22, the star forward of the Indiana Fever was named the 2011 Most Valuable Player in the Woman’s National Basketball Association (WNBA).
For Catchings, who was born with a binaural hearing loss, this was the first time that she had won the award, though she had been runner-up three times and finished in the top five in eight of her ten years in the league.
This season, she led the Fever to the best record in the Eastern Conference of the WNBA, averaging 15.5 points, 7.1 rebounds, 3.5 assists, and 2.0 steals a game. She shot a career-high .883 from the free throw line and converted .438 of her field goal attempt. She holds the league’s career record for steals and has been voted WNBA Defensive Player of the Year four times.
Catchings has been forthright about her hearing loss, and has often spoken and written about how she had to fight to overcome it. Earlier this year she tweeted,
“In the basketball world it’s well-known that I was born with a hearing impairment that affects both ears. As a young child, I remember being teased for the way I looked with my big, clunky hearing aids and the speech problems that accompanied the hearing impairment. Every day was a challenge for me. There were plenty of days that I wished I was normal.
“That’s how sports first came into my life. In the classroom, kids could make fun of me for being different. On the soccer field (my first sport) and eventually the basketball court, they couldn’t. I outworked them, plain and simple. Eventually, I was better than them.
“When I was in third grade, I threw my hearing aids into a field. Needless to say, my parents weren’t too happy. They doled out some tough love: They wouldn’t replace the hearing aids. That decision helped spark a work ethic that has shaped me into the person and player I am today.”
Catchings, whose father, Harvey Catchings, was an NBA star, led the Mystic to the WNBA semifinal round this season. However, her hopes of a title were dashed when the team was defeated last night (September 27) by the Atlanta Dream in the third and deciding game of their series.
HAS HER OWN FOUNDATION
Catchings is a star off the court as well as on. In 2004, she started the Catch the Stars Foundation, whose goal is to empower young people.
The organization provides underprivileged boys and girls with a variety of educational opportunities, including a scholar-athlete award program that has provided more than $35,000 in college scholarships to high school student-athletes. It also hosts basketball camps, health and wellness clinics, and other special events to help youngsters realize their dreams.
Earlier this year, the WNBA honored her work by giving her the WNBA Cares Community Assist Award for July. This was the seventh time that she has received that award.
Catchings is an active member of Big Brothers, Big Sisters and is on the board of Special Olympics Indiana. She also provides ongoing support to a number of charitable organizations that work with hard-of-hearing individuals.
OTHER HARD-OF-HEARING HIGH ACHIEVERS
Although a hearing impairment can be an obstacle in almost any endeavor, the world of sports is one arena where physical talent, hard work, and dedication have often been enough to compensate for this disability. Few athletes, however well they hear, reach the stature of being the very best at what they do, as Tamika Catchings has done. But she is not the first person to do so with a hearing loss.
For years, Jim Ryun was the world’s greatest middle-distance runner, holding the record in the mile and half-mile events. The Kansas native, who was the first high schooler to run the mile in under 4 minutes, was the silver medalist in the 1500-meter event in 1968 Olympics and also represented the U.S. in two other Olympics.
Although he kept his hearing problems under wraps during his running career, in his decade as a U.S. congressman from Kansas Ryun was a leading advocate for hard-of-hearing Americans.
BHI celebrity spokespeople
A number of accomplished athletes have done public service announcements for the Better Hearing Institute. Among those who have not let hearing loss hold them back is Curtis Pride, a deaf major league baseball player, who also excelled in soccer, basketball, and other sports.
A deaf star who changed the way baseball was played was the politically incorrectly nicknamed “Dummy” Hoy, who could neither hear nor speak. Despite that, during the early 1900s be was an outstanding major league player and also instigated the hand signals for balls, strikes, safe, and out that umpires still use today.
Reggie Williams, who was the 1991 national chairman for the Council for Better Hearing and Speech Month, was diagnosed with hearing loss in the third grade. Despite that, he became an excellent student, who graduated from Dartmouth College. He was also a terror on the gridiron, starring as a linebacker first in the Ivy League and then for 14 years with the Cincinnati Bengals, where he was named 1986 NFL Man of the Year.
Another football great with hearing issues was Mike Singletary, an NFL Hall of Famer. As an all-star linebacker for the Chicago Bears, he finished as the team’s first or second leading tackler each of his last 11 seasons and he helped lead the Bears to victory in Super Bowl XX.
Jeff Float lost most of his hearing at age 13 months from meningitis. But that never slowed him down. As captain of the 1984 U.S. Olympic swim team, he and his teammates set a world record in the men’s 800-meter freestyle relay.