Junior Heather Kennedy is succeeding on the soccer field for Queens and the U.S. Women’s National Deaf Soccer team, as well in the classroom, despite a hearing condition rendering her legally deaf.
Heather’s family found out she was hearing impaired when she was 1 year old. Hearing impairment runs in her family; her cousin has the same condition. Being hearing impaired at a young age meant that she had some catching up to do. She attended speech therapy classes on top of going to regular school with other kids.
Coming from Colorado Springs, Colo., Kennedy finds herself more than 1,000 miles away from home. She was drawn to Queens for multiple reasons, including the university’s wide range of majors. Kennedy is an interdisciplinary human services major with a minor in psychology. She eventually wants to use her degree to give back by helping people with speech therapy.
Today, Kennedy has learned to use her condition as motivation, but this was not the case when she was younger. She is currently a member of the U.S. Women’s National Deaf Soccer Team. She thought she played well this past summer and expressed that playing with other women who faced the same challenges as her helped her overcome some of the obstacles she has faced.
The U.S. Women’s National Deaf Soccer Team participates in the World Cup and Deaflympics every four years. Last summer, the team took the gold at the Deaflympics in Bulgaria, where over 4,000 deaf athletes gathered to play.
Kennedy also plays soccer for the Royals. She attributes her ability to join the national deaf team to encouragement and support from her teammates at Queens.
“Soccer is a sport that requires players to know what’s going on around them at all times,” said Katie Talbert, head coach of women’s soccer at Queens. “When you take away your hearing, it becomes a whole different game that requires a whole different level of talent.”
To overcome her obstacles, Heather has learned the skill of reading lips to help with her hearing impairment. She said it has been a useful skill on the field and in daily life.
Kennedy wears a pair of hearing aids to make life a little easier. Although they can help some people, when someone is deaf, hearing aids do not allow them to gain back their hearing. She had never played soccer without a hearing aid until she played in the World Cup last year. When playing with the national deaf team, hearing aids are not allowed.
“I used to lose my hearing aids during recess and the teachers would make the rest of the kids find it for me,” she said, recounting memories from elementary school.
This year, Kennedy and her teammates at Queens aspire to make it to the NCAA tournament. Everyone agrees that her situation is an asset and allows them to closely bond together, allowing for great potential.