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November 21, 2002

Two BC athletes thrive despite being deaf

From: Bakersfield Californian, CA
Nov. 21, 2002

Imagine competing in a sport and struggling just to communicate with your coach and teammates.

That's what Bakersfield College athletes Stacy Segeberg and Mario Grijalva go through every day.

Segeberg and Grijalva use a different language than their teammates, a much different one.

They are deaf and communicate via sign language.

But they refuse to consider being deaf as a disability.

"What we try to do is to empower other deaf individuals and to help them to realize that they are not beneath hearing people just because they can't hear or speak per se. But they're equals," Segeberg, a starter on the BC women's volleyball team, said through interpreter Cindee Bart, a deaf culture professor and sign language instructor at BC.

"I don't have a problem with it at all," added Grijalva, a runner on the BC men's cross country team, through interpreter Cecil Ramos. "It's just who I am."

Segeberg, 19, communicates with her teammates by lip reading, speaking and using hand gestures. None of her teammates know sign language.

Grijalva, 19, communicates with his teammates through Ramos, who is present at all his practices and most of his meets, and by writing down notes. None of his teammates have formal training in sign language, but a few have picked up some signs, most notably Erik Webb.

Communicating with their coach can also present hurdles.

Grijalva can't lip read very well and Ramos is usually on a different part of the course than coach Bob Covey.

"He just mimes it," Grijalva said of Covey. "He pretends like he's running himself. He shows me to pick up my arms and gives me pointers that way by helping me out, tries to encourage me, tell me to go faster with his hands."

"I can voice and I can lip read," Segeberg said. "The coach will stare right at me, she'll get right in my face if she wants to talk to me. That's kind of freaky at times."

Both athletes have interpreters present in all their classes.

"We have a wonderful supporting services program at Bakersfield College," Covey said. "It is the best I've ever seen anywhere.

"College is tough for anybody. (Grijalva)'s learning a lot about academic work. I can't imagine sitting in a classroom and having all your instructor's words interpreted for you in a way that you can't take notes. We have notetakers for him in class as set up by the (American Sign Language) people. But still I can't imagine how hard it must be to take those notes and take the understanding from the lectures and really work on mastering material. It's a slow process for him. He's working on it."

Segeberg is the vice president and Grijalva is the treasurer of BC's Deaf Club, which holds events, parties and fundraisers for deaf and hearing members.

They became the first Deaf Club members in school history to be named homecoming king and queen last month.

"Our culture is different than hearing culture," Segeberg said. "You listen to music and we don't because we can't hear. We hang out with people within our minority group. We have a different language. We're part of a linguistic minority."

But they would rather focus on how much they have in common with their teammates than how different they are.

"She has been an incredible example of someone who has in our eyes a disability, but if you know Stacy, it's not a disability at all that she can't hear," BC volleyball coach Julie Ryan said. "She shows us that we can accomplish any goal.

"The girls look up to her. In the beginning it was difficult, the communication to get across to Stacy. But you learn shortly that she can read lips and have a full conversation. She's just a very special person. She's special in ways that are inspirational, showing the team that any obstacle can be overcome."

Ryan requested an interpreter for the team's matches this season, but says that Segeberg doesn't need one because of her lip reading abilities.

In fact, Segeberg interprets for the team's student assistant, Jennifer Mitchell, who also is deaf.

Segeberg and Grijalva's special needs have forced their coaches to be creative. Neither had coached a deaf athlete before.

"I didn't know how it was going to work," Covey said. "On the very first practice the supporting services had the interpreter there with me and right away I screwed up.

"We were going to have a meeting in the men's dressing room so I dismissed the interpreter and told her, 'You can't come in here, we're going to have our meeting in here.' I was just going to write notes to (Grijalva). The next day I got a call from supportive services that I have no right to dismiss an interpreter. I said, 'Well, how could she go in the dressing room?' She says, 'It's your job to find a place where you can meet with the whole team, including the interpreter.' I found out very quickly that this is serious business for them to make sure they have the support of the interpreter at all times. I've been very appreciative of what they've done. It's a magnificent program."

Ryan said she had never taught or been around a deaf person before Segeberg joined the team as a freshman last season.

But after learning how to communicate with Segeberg, she says the school's deaf services program now places a lot of deaf students in her health class at BC.

According to Segeberg, there are some advantages to being a deaf athlete -- like one of the Renegades' matches this season against College of the Canyons when some of Canyons players were engaging in trash talking.

"I can't hear them," she said. "I don't have to worry about what they're saying out there, if people are ragging on me or anything like that. All I can do is just focus on myself and the game, focus on my team. I don't have to hear all the other garbage."

Segeberg, a sophomore middle blocker, is second on the team in blocks (47) and has converted 30 percent of her kill attempts for the Renegades (8-10), who conclude their season Friday at 7 p.m. at Citrus.

She led the team in blocks (75) and kill percentage (34.2 percent), was third behind Kim Harper and Sabrina Smart in kills (148) and also had 27 aces as a freshman last season.

After her sophomore year at BC, Segeberg plans to transfer to Gallaudet University, a Division III school for deaf students in Washington, D.C., and play volleyball for the Bison.

She also plans to compete for the United States volleyball team in the Deaf Olympics.

Segeberg, who attended Serrano High in Phelan, is majoring in deaf studies and wants to become a teacher for deaf children.

"I am proud to be deaf," she said.

Grijalva will run with the rest of his teammates in the state junior college cross country meet on Saturday at Fresno's Woodward Park. The women run at 10 a.m., followed by the men at 11 a.m.

Grijalva, a freshman, took fifth in the Western State Conference mid-season meet in a season-best, four-mile time of 20 minutes, 31 seconds last month.

But he missed the following two weeks with a mysterious stomach ailment, which was finally diagnosed as a pulled muscle in his rib cage.

He returned to place 26th at the four-mile conference meet in 22:02 on Nov. 1 and was 47th in 21:15 at the 3.85-mile Southern California championships Nov. 9.

"He really hasn't scratched the surface of what his ability is," Covey said of Grijalva, who didn't run as much during the summer as some of his teammates.

Grijalva finished fourth at the 3.1-mile Division II state meet in 15:49 as a senior at Highland High last year. Two weeks earlier he won the Central Section Division II race in 16:08.

He said he is undecided on his future academic plans, but would one day like to become a carpenter.

Both athletes have successfully broken the language barrier, becoming close to their teammates and coaches.

Grijalva smiles broadly as he jokes with his teammates during practices or downtime at meets.

"I'm kind of a funny guy," he said. "I like to act and mess around, tease people and have fun, enjoy my friends' company. I'm always messing around, always like the class clown."

Segeberg is extremely outgoing around people she is comfortable with, smiling often, but is sometimes shy when she meets people.

"She has an incredible deaf following." Ryan said. "Every game we go to she has more fans than anyone. They're mixed deaf and non-deaf."

Copyright © 2002, The Bakersfield Californian