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September 1, 2004

Beyond the mainstream: Swimmer beats expectations

From: Charlotte Observer, NC - Sep 1, 2004

13-year-old will be youngest swim team member at Deaflympics

Special correspondent

Thirteen-year-old Kristin Ates is training for her first international competition.

Kristin will be the youngest member of the U.S. swim team in the 2005 Deaflympics next January in Australia.

Kristin, who is deaf in one ear and partially deaf in the other, listened intently as her mother, Lori, recently relived the trauma of learning about her daughter's hearing disability.

Lori had noticed some warning signs shortly after Kristin was born. She didn't startle when the family dog entered the room or when the phone rang.

"I think every parent has this idea in their heads of having the perfect little family," Lori said. "I remember going home that day after they told us this and hearing the birds sitting out on a tree, singing and it was so beautiful. The only thing I could think about is she was never going to hear that."

Kristin's parents enrolled her in a preschool for deaf children in Morganton, where she learned visual cues. The family also taught her sign language and how to read lips whenever they got the chance.

When it came time to for kindergarten, the Ates' wanted to send Kristin to a mainstream school.

"They wanted to put her in a self-contained class, and I told them if she got used to a normal classroom setting, she would do fine and she did," Lori said.

Kristin has excelled since.

At Piedmont IB Middle School, Kristin is a straight-A student. She took the SAT in the seventh grade and scored a 1,000.

With the help of a cochlear implant, Kristin ditched the hearing aids and soon began talking to her mother on the phone and listening to music on a CD player.

Lori says Kristin now has channeled her determination into swimming.

She started competing three years ago. That's when she left the neighborhood pool for the Mecklenburg Aquatic Club and began exceeding everyone's expectations.

Alex Steger, her coach the past two years, says he believed Kristin would make it to the Deaflympics, but not as quickly as she did. After last season, the coaches encouraged her to submit her times to the swim committee and she qualified. She will be one of the more than 3,500 athletes from 80 countries vying for gold medals. The Deaflympics is held every four years.

Want to Help?

Kristin Ates is raising $4,500 for her trip to Australia. If you would like to contribute, call Steve or Lori Ates at (704) 548-1704 or e-mail

© 2004 Charlotte Observer and wire service sources. All Rights Reserved.