Boxing and Deafness: Interview with Sarah

Boxing offers challenges enough for pretty much anyone who considers taking it on. Which means most people who try it have guts… and plenty of great stories. In my last post I talked about the critical nature of training yourself to hear your coach, and received some very interesting input from a boxer who has never actually heard her coach. Because she’s deaf.

Meet Sarah. She’s 40 years old, living in Chicago with her partner and her 4 year old daughter. She’s been deaf since the age of three. Sarah has been boxing off and on since 2003, and recently had her first competitive boxing match. She graciously agreed to let me interview her about boxing, about training, and about the challenges she faces in the ring.

How did you get started in boxing?
I always wanted to learn a martial art, even as a young child. I remember putting on red mittens when I was in grade school, trying to convince my sister to “pretend” box. In 2003, when I was going through a difficult time, a friend said “Tomorrow, do something you always wanted to try.” So I called Spears Boxing went the next day. At the time, I thought I was too old to start, which is hilarious to me now. I loved it, and have boxed on and off every since.

What does your family think about your boxing?
It varies depending on who you ask! My partner supports it, she always says “I see how happy it makes you, so I want you to keep doing it.” My mother doesn’t like it, and forwards me articles about head injuries. My sister trains with me, although she doesn’t spar. My daughter knows that I “go to boxing” but she doesn’t know it involves hitting actual people.

It is very hard to balance family and boxing. I have to have child care arranged (either from my partner or someone else) for every minute I spend in the gym. That really limits how much time I can devote to it.

How does being deaf affect your training?
If I wear my hearing aids, I can hear my coach a little bit in regular training, but I don’t always wear them because sweat is not good for them. Being deaf affects me the most in sparring, because I definitely can’t wear my hearing aids under head gear. I generally do not hear any of the bells. I don’t know when to start or end a round, or when the 30 second bell rings. I don’t hear the coach yelling instructions at me. So I miss that aspect of coaching. I also I can’t lip read anyone wearing a mouth guard!

For sparring, I always am careful to let any new sparring partner know I can’t hear. They have have to keep their guard up until I realize the round is over, because I can’t hear the bell to stop. Usually the person will just step back and wave me off. When I had my one actual match, the referee had to break us up more physically because I can’t hear them yell “break!”

Are cochlear implants a possibility?
My audiologist advised me to look into cochlear implants. But one problem with the cochlear is that I would have to stop boxing, at least sparring. To me, that is a major drawback for the cochlear at this time. When I told one doctor that was a factor in my decision not to consider cochlear right now, she looked baffled, like I had made a weird joke.

What does your training look like currently?
The class I take is for 90 minutes twice a week and I try to make both. I don’t always. I am trying to work in a day of weight training but haven’t done it yet.I always do jump rope, heavy bags, and medicine drill balls with my sister. Ideally, I would always do the speedbag but it has been broken in our gym. I almost always spar.

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