The 24th Summer Deaflympics: An Inside Look

Sports season is here with a slew of talented competitors wanting to make history on a global level. If you miss the adrenaline rush or sheer joy of rooting for your country at a worldwide sporting event – there is a solution for you. The 24th Summer Deaflympics is taking place in Caxias do Sul, Brazil from May 1st to May 15th! Deaf athletes from around the globe will compete in numerous events to achieve the ultimate goal of any sportsperson – a medal at the Olympics!

The Deaflympics as it is known today, first began as the “International Silent Games” in 1924 in Paris, France with 9 participating European countries. The International Silent Games were the first ever global sporting event for a group of people with disabilities. It was pioneered by Eugène Rubens-Alcais, who was Deaf himself and President of the French Deaf Sports Federation. Monsieur Rubens-Alcais, thought The International Silent Games to be the fitting answer to society at that time since it viewed Deaf people as being intellectually inferior and incapable of superior athletic ability. As the games garnered more popularity outside of Europe, it was dubbed the Deaflympics. These games have the unique capability of not only being a global sporting event but also a social movement to benefit Deaf people. Deaflympics helped to reduce misconceptions about Deaf people around the world and has made progress in addressing prejudices against people with disabilities in the sporting world. The Deaflympics started almost a 100 years ago with only 9 participating countries – and has grown today to almost 116 participating nations including geographically disparate nations like Lebanon, Paraguay and Mozambique. A total of 23 Summer games have been held in 4 year intervals since the initial Paris games.

Deaflympics are unique in the fact that that is an event for Deaf people hosted completely by Deaf people since only Deaf people are allowed on the board that conducts the games.

The sports included in this global event consist of beach volleyball, Taekwondo, bowling and even orienteering (navigating race competition using tools such as a map and compass while in an unknown terrain). While all sports in the Deaflympics are equally important and come with their own set of struggles, these remarkable athletes from around the world are known for dominating them. Take a look:

Prithvi Sekhar: Prithvi is a well-known tennis player from India who competed in the 2013 and 2017 Deaflympics. In 2017, he took home a bronze medal for the mixed doubles competition. 

Petra Kurková: Petra, from the Czech Republic, is a former alpine skier who competed in the 1999, 2003, and 2007 Deaflympics and received a total of 12 medals (8 of those gold).

Suslaidy Girat Rivero: Suslaidy is an amazing Cuban athlete recognized for track and field. She competed in the 2009, 2013, and 2017 Summer Deaflympics and has won six gold medals.

Shi Ce: Shi Ce is a famous Chinese athlete known for her exquisite skills in table tennis. From 2005-2020, she competed at the Deaflympics and won 14 medals – including 11 gold.

Matthew Klotz: Matthew, an American swimmer who competed at the 2013 and 2017 Deaflympics, is a 5-time gold medalist.

Lisa McBee: Our Director of Marketing, Lisa McBee, is a talented soul who represented the U.S. and competed in the 2001 Deaflympics in the Women’s Heptathlon. She took home a bronze medal in the high jump category. Here’s an interview that we conducted on what she had to say about her experience:

What age did you first get into sports? It was at age nine.

What is your favorite sport now? Basketball and Spikeball are the top two.

You competed in the heptathlon. Out of the seven events, which one was your favorite to compete in? Tough decision! I like to compete on the field instead of on the track. I like high jump, long jump, and shot put. I pick shot put! It’s fun to throw something heavy, see who is the strongest, and not have to deal with being so out of breath.

What was training like for the Deaflympics? For training, I practiced on my own in my hometown of St. Louis, MO for two months. After I graduated from Missouri School for the Deaf, two of my former coaches from cross country/track and field worked with me for two weeks. We trained for 8 hours every day, 6 days a week for two weeks before heading to Deaflympics. My experience on the field was amazing – I could communicate with everyone even when they were at a far distance.

What made you want to get into sports? One day, while I was attending Missouri School for the Deaf, I saw boys playing with a ball on the court. I jumped in to play and that’s when I decided to get into sports. I am a very competitive person.

What mental tool did you use under pressure? Taking a walk and mediating helped a lot.

Do you have any heroes or role models (Deaf and hearing) that you look up to? My father is my hero. Unfortunately, he passed away to cancer.

What difference do you see in how Deaf athletes are treated now vs. how they were treated when you competed? Low funding has always been a struggle for us athletes for years. We had to fundraise by ourselves and ask sponsors for donations to enter the competition. I had to raise $4,500 on my own. It was tough to get sponsors in the past. Now, it’s easier to find them because of Deaf services and organizations that are growing within the Deaf community. Communication accessibility is much better with iPhones and networking has progressed with social media. The one thing that I don’t understand is how the Paralympics can easily get funds, yet Deaf athletes are not considered part of the disability category and therefore struggle to get funds.

What do you want the world to know about Deaf athletes? I want the world to know that Deaf athletes should be in the Paralympics group.

What advice would you give to Deaf athletes today? Stay strong. Don’t let yourself stay in silence!

Favorite quote? My favorite quote is my personal quote, “Let your hands fly!”

 

Disparity:

Deaf athletes work just as hard as hearing athletes to train and compete on a global level, many times even facing intense prejudice and overcoming many other adversities to be able to get on a global team – but Deaf athletes are not treated the same way as their hearing counterparts. In the US, Deaf athletes often must fundraise for themselves to be able to represent their countries in the Deaflympic games. In addition, Deaf athletes are expected to put in all their efforts just for the glory of winning a medal at the Deaflympics – there is no compensation awarded for winning a medal at the Deaflympics. On the other hand, an American athlete gets $37,500 for winning a gold medal at the Olympics. As our Director of Marketing stated, Deaf athletes are also not considered to be in the Paralympics – because in most cases, their Deafness is an unseen disability. This disparity in the treatment of world-class, hard-working athletes must be addressed.

As we watch the Deaflympics from the comfort of our homes, let us cheer on these incredible athletes who practice day in and day out to achieve greatness. Blood, sweat and tears have been poured out of these competitors. They have battled physical and mental barriers to reach the level they are at today. Their resilience, grit and determination is to be lauded and celebrated. As we watch the games this year, we must also remember and acknowledge the raw passion for the sport which drives them, and hope that they will be able to receive more than recognition as their reward. We wave our hands to support these great athletes that show us again and again the true meaning of sportsmanship. The WIS Team would like to wish all of these great athletes’ great success at the Deaflympics games this year!

The 24th Summer Deaflympics: An Inside Look
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