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May 22, 2003

Deaf athlete aiming for PIAA title

From: Pittsburgh Tribune Review, PA - May 22, 2003

By Paul Schofield

Unlike most athletes, Andrew Cohen doesn't rely on the crowd to pump him up during competition.

He can't. Since Cohen is deaf, he doesn't feed off the crowd's applause.

So when Cohen, a junior at Franklin Regional High School, won the WPIAL Class AAA discus champion last week at Baldwin's Cibik Stadium, all he saw were people clapping. But that was satisfying enough for him.

"Winning the title was a nice feeling," Cohen said. "It was a pleasure that I got to represent my school and coaches."

Being deaf since birth hasn't stopped him for achieving the goals he's set.

"Nothing is impossible," Cohen said. "If you want something, you have to work at it. Nothing falls into your lap."

Cohen also refuses to let his deafness stop him from other achievements.

His mother, Debby, proudly says he's a straight-A student. He also loves computers, travel and animals.

Cohen also interacts well with the students at school.

"Andrew is a special kid," said Ron Suvak, Franklin Regional athletic director. "He's overcome huge hurdles all his life. I'm proud of him."

Cohen has yet another hurdle to overcome when he competes in the PIAA Track and Field Championships on Friday and Saturday at Shippensburg University. The discus finals will be held 9 a.m. Friday.

"I have many different goals," Cohen said. "My ultimate goal is to throw the discus more than 200 feet. There are no limitations."

Cohen said he has set some high goals. He'd like to attend the University of Southern California and compete in the 2005 Deaf Olympics. USC has a great track tradition and offers what he intends to study: animation.

John Siko, throwing coach for the Franklin Regional track team, just shakes his head when he watches his prize thrower practice. He worries that Cohen works out too much and describes him as a workaholic.

"He might love the discus too much," Siko said. "He can be good at throwing the shot put and javelin if he loved them as much as he loves the discus.

"He really works hard at the discus. I've never coached an athlete so dedicated to the sport."

Siko said Cohen is constantly throwing the discus on his own. He comes back to the practice field in the evenings and on Saturdays and Sundays.

"He's taught me some new things," Siko said. "I feel he throws too much, but it hasn't hurt him. It's made him better."

Siko and Cohen have a special bond. They joke around and have developed their own sign language over the years.

"Andrew seems to rise to the occasion," Siko said. "I'm comfortable he'll do very well. He's made drastic improvements in his throws the past two seasons.

"I expect him to get better. He has a hitch in his throw, but he's been able to overcome it. We've been working hard to eliminate it, and he's getting better at it."

Cohen, who has the second best throw in the state, captured the WPIAL discus title with a school record throw of 171 feet, 3 inches. He broke the school's longest standing record as a sophomore with a throw of 153-4. Jack Holliday's throw of 152-4 was set in 1972.

"I have plenty of blisters to prove it," said Cohen.

"Andrew is a tremendous role model," said Rick Bullock, track coach at Franklin Regional. "Nobody works harder than him. He's focused and has a great work ethic."

Cohen began throwing the discus in eighth grade and quickly became the best thrower in junior high school. He also competed on the wrestling team and was a swimmer before turning to track.

"Andrew wants to blend in with the rest of the students," said Debby Cohen. "He tries not to let his deafness hold him back. We're so proud of him."

copyright © 2003 by The Tribune-Review Publishing Co.