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January 17, 2003

Jackson not slowed by hearing loss

From: Daily Oklahoman, OK - 17 Jan 2003

By Andrew Gilman
The Oklahoman

THOMAS -- In the principal's office at Thomas High School, the two men laughed and asked the stranger if he needed a translator to sit in on a conversation with Chelsea Jackson.


Chelsea Jackson is deaf, after all. Can't hear words. Can only make out sounds, and that's only if she's wearing her hearing aid.

"Well, you know," one of the men says with some, but not nearly enough, comic timing, "She speaks Blond."

No help necessary. The only thing hard to understand is how very little her lack of hearing affects her life.

"When I was younger, sometimes I would say I wished it never happened," said Jackson. "But really, it's never bothered me."

"I'm just normal, I guess"

The search can end. Jackson is the lone teenage girl who doesn't like talking on the phone and doesn't care much for TV.

Jackson has been without hearing since she was 18 months old -- possibly caused by a fall down a flight of stairs. She spends her evenings chatting with friends on the Internet. But that's when she's not on the court.

There, the senior guard plays with such a focus, such an attention-to-detail that she's among the state's elite in scoring and has colleges talking about her future.

Jackson doesn't use sign language (she reads lips instead) and never went to a special school for deaf children. She's at home in Thomas, the place where her older sister and brother played ball. The place where the teachers tease her and the boys cover their mouths when she's around -- just to see if it irritates her.

It does.

"I'm not thankful this happened," says her dad Bill. "I'm thankful she's been able to overcome this."

Overcome? Overcoming is for rehabilitators and sufferers. Jackson didn't overcome her deafness, she's embraced it.

"I'm just normal, I guess," Jackson said. "I'm pretty much like everyone else."

Maybe. Maybe, but everyone else doesn't average 22 points per game for a team expected to make the state tournament. Everyone else isn't a quick-witted, four-point student with college scholarships offers. Everyone else isn't funny beyond their years or as quick to smile at strangers.

"I always think I ought to do more," says Bill Jackson. "But she always says no."

Says coach Brian Hamar: "Just one of those really special kids."

The sound around

The bed shakes violently, lights flash and Jackson lays there, flings out her hand and punishes the snooze button with a smack.

Knock at the door. No response.

Shades pulled. "I hate the light," she says.

Time for school.

Regular alarm clocks won't work. She has to have a special kind of bed, one that jitterbugs, just so she can know it's time to wake.

"I gotta bring the bed with me to college," she says. "If I don't, I'll never get to class."

When Chelsea was younger, doctors thought a pair of hearing aids would help. Instead of just one, maybe another would make things easier on her. It didn't. It rattled her, sending too many sounds all at once, all of them garbled into her world. Too much noise, "Made my eyes shake," she said.

So, Chelsea wears just the one, even paints it Thomas green and white on game days. Only turns it off at night when she sleeps. "I just hate the quiet."

That quiet dominates Jackson's life. Surrounds her.

Noisy gyms? Maybe to you and to everyone else. To Jackson, it's just a buzzing in the background, where her teammates nod to let her know when it's her turn to accept the high- fives that come when she runs down the line after being introduced.

The crowd doesn't just clap when Jackson scores a basket, steals a pass, sinks a free throw. They point at her. Then she knows. She can't hear it, but she can feel it.

The rowdiest schools, the wildest fans, the same response from Jackson. This time with a bit more punch in the punchline.

"Hey, I don't hear a thing."

Basketball dreams

Used to be, when she didn't want to listen to her mom Carolene scolding her, Jackson would cover her eyes and tell mom, "I can't hear you."

"I would try that with coach, too," Jackson said, "but he'd probably make me run all practice."

Sure, tease the parents, not the coach. Basketball is what's important.

"When she was younger, she would always sit with me and watch the games so closely," said her father, Bill. "She didn't run around with the other kids during the games, she wanted to watch.

"I never dreamed she would actually play. But that's what she wanted to do. I want her to play, also."

Chelsea said: "I've always wanted to. I've always been encouraged to play."

Jackson doesn't dream she can hear. She has nightmares about basketball games where free throws keep missing and her shots never go in.

Then, she wakes. That nasty alarm silenced at least for another day. Jackson makes her way to class, talks in the halls with her friends. Gets ready for basketball practice.

"There's a sign in the football dressing room," Hamar said. "It says the only disability in life is a bad attitude.

"I tell the girls this sometimes. I don't have to mention Chelsea. They know. She represents that statement."

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