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November 15, 2004

Hearing-impaired student-athletehas winning attitude

From: Kalamazoo Gazette, MI - Nov 15, 2004

Monday, November 15, 2004
By Rick Shanley
Special to the Gazette

There's a girl at Loy Norrix High School who, like other 17-year-olds, has a crush on New York Yankees star Derek Jeter.

She is a top student who goes off-campus to take a college course in the afternoon.

Like other seniors, she has career goals. She wants to be a physician's assistant for pediatrics. She wants to play sports in college.

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Like other high schoolers, she has a network of friends to connect with in the hallways between classes.

She plays basketball at Norrix and is one of the school's best softball players.

Her name is Tanya Timmerman, and she hates it when people make a big deal of the fact she's deaf.

"What's the point of me being treated differently?" Timmerman says. "I'm normal, like everybody else."

Thanks to years of work with her parents and teachers, plus a little device called a cochlear implant, she hears people, talks to people -- albeit a bit slower -- and leads about as normal a life as someone her age can.

She can hear most of what you're saying if you speak clearly and directly to her. The only time when her hearing impairment really affects her is when it comes to receiving orders from her coaches and teammates.

"We have signs for her on the court so that she'll know what we're doing," said Cetera Washington, a basketball teammate. "We'll hold up numbers so it's obvious to her the play we're running. For defense, we might tug on the jersey -- that's a press. On offense, if we're running '32,' we'll hold up two fingers and she knows right away what we're doing.

"It's not hard. Plus, she reads lips very well."

The Norrix softball team has its own adjustments, coach Art Williams said.

"Because she pitches, we just have a rule that if there's a pop-up, the pitcher never fields it," Williams said. "When she's not pitching, sometimes she plays shortstop. If a short pop-up is hit to left field, we have everyone trained that, if the outfielder can get the ball, it's theirs.

"If she's going to get it, she raises her hand in the air and the outfielders and third baseman know to get out of the way, that she's going to get it. Her teammates have learned to adjust really well."

Other than that, there's no special treatment for Timmerman, including from basketball coach Anthony Stuckey.

"There are times when she'll start slacking and cutting corners," he said. "She doesn't complain a whole lot, and even when she does it doesn't work with me. I talk to her normally like I talk to all the other kids."

The cochlear implant, for the most part, is hidden. A disk surgically implanted in her brain connects to a device that resembles a little steering wheel, which attaches to the side of her head and blends in with her thick black hair. But devices attached to the backs of her ears are visible when, for example, opponents guard her under the basket.

She also has an interpreter by her side for games and practices, so it becomes clear rather quickly to others that she's hearing-impaired.

"Once they see that I'm signing, that makes them back away a little bit," Timmerman said of her opponents. "But when I talk to them, they realize that I can hear them and talk to them. After that it's easy."

It's also easy for her to block out the crowd noise that would rattle other players in late-game situations.

"She can't hear the crowd getting all wild; she can't hear girls screaming at her trying to pressure her," Stuckey said. "I think she can sense it, but it still doesn't cause as much pressure as if you hear people yelling or the crowd getting louder and louder.

"The reverse end of that," he said, "is if the ball is actually bouncing right by her with her back turned, or if a teammate is yelling at her to help on defense or watch a back-door pass. Also, not being able to hear in order to get a sense or a feeling of the game, just the timing of you bouncing the ball."

Playing the game of life, on the other hand? Timmerman smacked that curveball out of sight a long time ago.

"I'm part of the National Honor Society, a member of Jeter's Leaders, and I'm the vice president of the Spanish Club," she said. " I also know signing very clearly, so I can talk to people in sign language," she said.

"I feel like I have the best of both worlds."

© 2004 Kalamazoo.