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October 29, 2004

A winner before the gun sounds

From: Arizona Republic - Phoenix,AZ,USA - Oct 29, 2004

Deaf swimmer excelling

Richard Obert
The Arizona Republic
Oct. 29, 2004 12:00 AM

The gun sounds, and Marcus Titus watches for his interpreter's signal to leave the blocks. Few can catch the Tucson Flowing Wells senior in the pool.

When the race is over, and Titus climbs out of the water, he doesn't hear a word. Friends smile and embrace him for another victory.

He has had so many since he began taking swimming seriously just three years ago. Last year, he finished second in the 100-yard breaststroke and 10th in the 50 freestyle at the Class 5A championships. Recently, he won both events at the Nike Classic Invitational.

His best time in the 100 breaststroke this season is 58.88 seconds, and his best in the 50 freestyle is 22.08. He is favored to win the state championship in the 100 breaststroke next week.

These are small victories in the life of a kid who was born deaf.

"Just because I am deaf, it doesn't mean that my capabilities are limited and my goals are set within some pre-defined range that I cannot exceed," he said.

It is not known why he was born deaf. His sister, Monica, 22, has normal hearing.

Titus has a profound loss of hearing in his right ear and a severe loss in his left ear.

He can make out sounds in a quiet room and one-on-one conversations with the aide of a hearing aide.

He rarely goes anywhere without his interpreter, who communicates what is said through sign language. He is there with him in his classrooms, at practices, at his swim meets. Remarkably, he has made the honor roll every year since moving from a specialty private school - Arizona School for the Deaf and Blind in Tucson - in the fifth grade into public school where all of the other kids could hear.

Students and swimmers were always curious to see Titus with an interpreter. But he never thinks of himself as anything other than a normal teenager.

"Initially, there was an adjustment period for everyone: myself, coaches, teachers, students and teammates," Titus wrote via e-mail. "I had to adjust in that I could no longer rely entirely on a hearing aid, but on my interpreter as well. Then, of course, I had to handle being stared at. As for teammates and students, some of them welcomed me and others didn't. I think they were intrigued at seeing an interpreter, but afraid to talk to me.

"How do you ask me something or start a conversation? But after seeing that I'm a normal guy, just wanting to have fun and swim, most didn't hesitate to approach me. Still, others, if they don't have the patience to say things slowly or repeat themselves for me, they don't want anything to do with me."

Mostly, Titus gets along well, and he has great friends.

"They even love my interpreter," Titus said.

The interpreter usually serves as the icebreaker, Titus' father, Mark, said.

"I think he's confident in what he does," Mark said of his son. "There's still some reluctance. He's not a real outgoing guy. He's shy about meeting new people. . . . People will come up to (the interpreter) and ask questions. Guys on the swim team, they don't hesitate to come up and talk to him."

It has been a joy for Mark and Mieko Titus to watch their only son blossom in his mostly silent world. But it was devastating to learn that their son was deaf when he was nearly 3 and not talking.

"We went to his pediatrician, and he said, 'He's just a boy, and he's having delayed speech,' " Mark Titus said. "My wife said, 'No, we're going to a specialist.' That's when we found out. It upset our entire life. At that point, we had to pool 100 percent of our effort into him and to get him on with life. We wanted him to be like everyone else."

Thanks to speech therapy, he can talk clearly, but, in a noisy room, even with the hearing aide, everything sounds muffled.

Titus started swimming year-round his freshman year at Flowing Wells when it appeared he had natural talent in the pool. He now swims for Ford Aquatics, the premier club program in Tucson.

Titus said he would never use his deafness as an excuse.

"Instead of being sorry for myself or feeling left out, I tell myself to be strong and just go out there and live," he said.

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