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July 14, 2003

For young golf star, deafness is no handicap

From: Kingston Whig Standard, Canada - Jul 14, 2003

By Patrick Kennedy

Local News - Whenever and wherever Jason Plumb chooses to play golf, whether in a tournament or a quick 18 with a pal, he can bank on a critical component of the shot-making process. Silence – guaranteed.

Two weeks ago, Plumb, who has been deaf since the age of three, carded a

3-under-par 69 to capture the opening event of this summer’s St. Lawrence junior tour.

“Not hearing anything when you’re putting, I guess that helps your focus,” he said through interpreter and longtime friend Jamie Purdon.

Golf, perhaps. But what about soccer and hockey, sports in which communication is an integral element of success?

“Not hearing anything when you’re putting, I guess that helps your focus,” he said through interpreter and longtime friend Jamie Purdon.

Golf, perhaps. But what about soccer and hockey, sports in which communication is an integral element of success. Hearing seems almost essential.

Plumb, an honour-roll student four years running at La Salle Secondary, played both sports and golfed with Black Knight varsity teams; also basketball, in his first year when he garnered Grade-9 top-athlete laurels.

“When I’m on the ice or the field, I’m constantly looking around and trying to visualize what will happen next,” he explained from a deck chair at the family home on Loughborough Lake.

Contact shinny, in particular, seems a hazardous undertaking for the hearing impaired, given that the mere sound of an opponent approaching is often the only warning prior to impact.

Yet Plumb, 18, played all-star hockey for several seasons, only switching to the non-contact variety after breaking his collarbone two years ago.

(Curiously, that injury occurred on the pitch, the same sports playpen where he broke an ankle and a finger in separate mishaps over the past three soccer campaigns. The teen grins when a visitor suggests he give up the foot game for the good of his health.)

Plumb was born in Switzerland where his father, Rob, the former Kingston Canadian forward and Detroit Red Wings prospect, finished his professional career with seven seasons in the Swiss elite league.

Jason was 11 months old when a deadly strain of meningitis swept through the region. The disease, which eventually claimed the toddler’s hearing and speech, was responsible for at least six deaths in the area, his mother recalled.

“We were one of the lucky families,” said Brenda Plumb, an educational assistant with the Limestone District school board.

“Still it was a difficult situation to accept. As an infant, Jason was ahead of schedule and near the top percentile in just about everything; walking at nine months, that sort of thing.”

After Rob retired as a paid puck-chaser – the Wings elevated him twice for a total of 14 NHL games – the family returned home for keeps.

Jason was enrolled in a children’s hearing-impaired program at Rideau Heights Public. He learned to sign and was integrated into classroom life with the aid of an interpreter.

When he was six, in an effort to restore all or part of his hearing, he underwent a Cochlear implant operation at London University Hospital.

The result was negative.

By the time he was nine he’d had two more procedures including one on the other ear. None proved successful.

Lifting his spirit was a decision to transfer Jason to Storrington Heights Public in Grade 4. The parents had considered enrolling their oldest son – the youngest, Jamie, is 13 – at Belleville’s Sir James Whitney school for the deaf.

“Grade 4 at Storrington was a huge positive step for him, it really made an unbelievable difference in his character – and sports did it,” the mom observed. “He started playing ball and for the first time was meeting kids and making friends in his own neighbourhood, so to speak.”

Plumb and Purdon hooked up as classmates in Grade 4 and have been classmates every year since. Purdon and some others – such as Plumb’s longtime hockey teammate Adam Thorne – learned the basics of signing with impromptu lessons from Plumb’s interpreter.

“At first the kids at [Storrington] were a little different towards Jason, probably because no one had ever been around a deaf person before,” said Purdon, La Salle’s head boy last year.

“Once he got into sports, everything changed for him. He loves sports and he loves to compete.”

Sign-language interpreter Michelle Lawson worked with Plumb over the past two years, but no longer. She is leaving the area to take a another job.

“He’s a very bright student, especially bright in math, and he always works extremely hard,” said the 28-year-old. “His confidence in me was really touching, it made me feel needed.”

Plumb is asked to name the one sound he misses most.

He gazes downward before replying: “I’ve never really thought about it.”

A request is made for the lad’s favourite memory, perhaps that long-ago golf game with pop’s pal, Doug Gilmour, or that two-hop hole in one three years ago at Inverary. How about the seven-pound smallmouth pulled from Loughborough’s waters.

(The mounted pisces remains the resident whopper in the Plumb household, befitting its regal position high on a wall above two five-pounders landed by pops and baby brother.)

Surely that private audience with Princess Diana must rank up there. Jason, then five, met the Royal Patron of the International Association of the Deaf during her 1991 visit to Kingston.

Sorry, none of the above.

It’s that round of 69 from a fortnight ago at Amherstview. “It was my first ever under-par round and my lowest score ever,” he stated proudly.

“I like to show people that just because someone isn’t able to hear, it doesn’t mean he isn’t able to do things and do them well.”

© 2003 The Kingston Whig-Standard