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February 9, 2003

JEFF BROWN: Indahl skates to his own sound

From: LaCrosse Tribune, WI - 09 Feb 2003

By JEFF BROWN / Tribune Sports Editor
D usty Indahl walked through the door, smiled when greetings were exchanged, and carried his high school hockey jersey and well-used stick like any 16-year-old who would rather be skating than talking.

Dusty loves hockey, pure and simple. His eyes light up at the mention of it.

But on this day, he didn't mind talking about himself after a little coaxing. His experiences on the ice have been great, but something bigger, better and more exciting than ever is on the horizon - a trip to Sweden. A trip where his hockey skills will certainly be tested, but not nearly as much as something else - his communication skills.

Dusty doesn't hear the crack of a slap shot, the swish of a skate cutting through the ice, or the sound of a crowd. In fact, when he takes his implant out - which he does when he plays hockey - he doesn't hear anything at all.

Complete silence. Hit the mute button on your television, then say nothing. This is Dusty's world without a cochlear implant.

"I just play hockey. I don't have to worry about the implant," Dusty said of his decision to play without the implant he received when he was 6 years old. "If I have it in, I think about it."

For some unexplainable reason, Dusty lost 85 percent of his hearing when he was 9 months old. His parents, Dave and Carol, realized something was amiss quicker than most parents probably would. Their oldest daughter, Dawn Marie, was born deaf.

Dawn Marie has decided against a cochlear implant, which consists of a nickel-sized receiver chip that is implanted in the cochlea bone of the skull near the ear, then uses an external, magnetized transmitter, that sends an electrical code to the auditory nerve. A microphone is then worn behind the ear to collect the sound waves.

"We realized what was happening... We saw the signs," said Dave, who grew up in West Salem and lived in La Crosse for 25 years before moving his family to Farmington, Minn., in 1992 when his job required him to relocate.

So he and Carol, who grew up in Barre Mills, talked it over amongst themselves, with Dusty, and with a number of specialists. Was an implant the right thing to do? Would it help Dusty hear any better? What were the side affects? What would it cost?

All of these were important factors to consider with such a serious operation. In the end, they all agreed it was worth trying, so Dusty underwent the $50,000 operation to insert an implant with 22 electrodes at a hospital at the University of Iowa in May of 1992.

This is the part of the story where you jump and down and say, "What a miracle!," right? Not this time. Cochlear implants help individuals who have a hearing impairment to hear sounds, but it's not the same sounds you and I hear.

"You have to learn to hear all over again," Carol said.

Dave and Carol equated the sounds Dusty hears to that of someone who uses an artificial voice box. Or that is what he has conveyed to them. He still reads lips, and he uses sign language to communicate. None of the above have slowed him down, however, when it comes to playing hockey.

Dusty is a member of the Farmington (Minn.) High School team, and will travel to Sweden on Feb. 25 through March 9 to play in the Deaflympics. He is a member of the 22-player U.S. Team that is coached by former Wisconsin Badgers coach Jeff Sauer.

It was Sauer who first noticed Dusty - who plays both as a defenseman and a forward - at the Stan Mikita Hockey School in Chicago, a school that Dusty has attended for 10 consecutive years.

"I have been involved with this program for 25 years. I have watched a number of these kids grow up," Sauer said. "Dusty is a young, energetic guy who has developed into a hockey player. Because he is so young, originally what we had done is we put him on the back burner (for the U.S. team). We knew his turn would come around the next time."

Or so everyone thought.

Because several players who earned spots on the team could not go for a number of reasons, including school and work commitments, some spots opened up. And when he received a call from Sauter, Dusty's eyes opened up. Wide open.

This 16-year-old kid was about to become the youngest member of the U.S. Deaflympic Team, a team that consists of players in their 20s and 30s. A team that will spend a week practicing at Lake Placid (Feb. 16-24) in the same arena where the "Miracle on Ice" took place in 1980.

"Originally, he sent us an e-mail saying, 'I'm sorry you didn't make the team.' He sent us his e-mail address to make sure we would keep in touch with him," Dave said.

That was in June. Two weeks ago, the Indahls returned home to find the light blinking on their answering machine. It was Sauer, who was informing them that Dusty had a chance to be on the team. First, he had to undergo a test - an audiogram - to make sure he was "deaf enough to play," Dave said.

Dusty met the requirements to be on the team, and "was shocked" that he was going to have a chance to participate against the likes of Germany, Finland, Sweden, Russia, Czech Republic and Canada. Participate, and perhaps return home with a medal.

"It's weird... Like a dream come true," Dusty said. "I know I can do it. I have confidence."

Dusty's always been confident, his parents said, and not just about hockey. He has been able to overcome his disability through sheer determination, although he, and his parents, admit there is nothing like the week-long Mikita hockey camp to bring out the best in their son.

"For one week out of the year, you are totally normal," said Carol, unable to contain her emotions.

"For one week, he is at the same level as everybody else," Dave said.

Dusty is not like everyone else, and I mean that in a very positive way. Although he cannot hear like most of us, he does a number of things many of us can't, including playing a great game of hockey.

And who knows? He may be as good as gold when he returns.

Jeff Brown can be reached at (608) 782-9710, Ext. 403, or e-mail at

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