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February 24, 2005

SRU track athlete wins silver medal at Deaflympics

From: The Rocket - Slippery Rock,PA,USA - Feb 24, 2005

By Randy Klins

Slippery Rock University student and track and field team member Andrew Cohen doesn't seem to be any different than anyone else that competes in the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference.

Like most track athletes, Cohen, a 19-year-old freshman majoring in computer science and psychology, is built well to endure the rigors that every student-athlete encounters.

And like most of his peers on the SRU track team, he has tasted quite a bit of success in his six years of discus throwing.

However, when he stood on the podium to accept his silver medal last month in Melbourne, Australia at the 2005 Summer Deaflympics, he could not hear the large crowd's applause. Cohen was born profoundly deaf and has not heard the cheers his entire life.

Cohen competed in the Deaflympic Games this past month on Jan. 5-16 in Melbourne, and brought a silver medal back to SRU with him.

Although very excited, Cohen, a graduate of Franklin Regional High School, was modest after his finish.

"It was a nice feeling," Cohen said. "I am not going to brag about it. It's much better to be humble."

Head coach John Papa agreed that Cohen is a very humble person to be around.

"He never expressed how he did," Papa said.

On Saturday, Jan. 8, the fourth day of the Deaflympics, Cohen earned a silver medal in the men's discus competition. He finished behind gold medallist Oleg Bilokon of Ukraine, and he finished ahead of the bronze medallist, teammate Onye Davis.

The Deaflympics consisted of over 3,000 athletes from more than 80 countries around the world. Like the Olympics, the Deaflympic Games are under the aid of the United States Olympic Committee, and are held every four years in a major city anywhere in the world. The event is open to any qualifying hearing-impaired or deaf athletes.

Cohen was one of only 21 track stars chosen to be a Deaflympic athlete on the United States team. Cohen was also one of only two track and field athletes in the state of Pennsylvania, along with pole vault athlete Seth Keck, who were chosen to take part in the event.

Tryouts for the Deaflympics were held at Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C., the only deaf university in the world. In order to qualify to be a part of the U.S. team, previous competitions are graded as the athletes are chosen.

Cohen said his experience in Australia was pretty interesting. He said he met people from at least 50 countries. Although the communication was sometimes a little shaky because American Sign Language is not universal, he said they managed to do well conversing with each other.

Although Cohen also participated in the hammer throw, the shot put and the javelin in Australia, Papa believes he has all the tools to be a great discus thrower even though he is just a freshman.

"He has great footwork," Papa said. "He moves very well and very smoothly. If he keeps it up, he's going to be one of the top discus throwers in the conference."

Cohen said his abilities in the discus did not come easily. It took a lot of work for him to adapt to the surroundings without being able to hear.

"It didn't come naturally to me at all," Cohen said. "Spinning is not natural. We have to learn how to spin with the proper technique."

But it all translated into Cohen's success.

"It's like when you're first learning how to throw a ball," Cohen said. "You learn how to utilize your senses, your abilities and the environment around you. And show it through your performances.

Cohen has been training for the 2005 Deaflympics since last summer, and continues to lift hard for the upcoming outdoor season. Cohen trains with the indoor team, especially with assistant coach Laura Finkes. They work on many drill work exercises to prepare for the spring season. He said he is not ashamed to be deaf and uses it to his advantage.

"Being deaf makes me much more determined to do well," Cohen said. "You have to work for it. Nothing will ever fall into your lap."

Papa said the freshman has the respect of his teammates.

"The other kids have a lot of respect for him," Papa said. "He's (at practice) all the time and he does what he needs to do. He stays active and works with a lot of the other athletes."

He also said Cohen doesn't use being deaf as a reason for not performing well.

"He doesn't use it as an excuse," Papa said. "He's adapting very well to our team."

Although he's just a freshman, Cohen has also finished well this season at the Rock, including the weight throw competition in the PSAC West Challenge held at SRU.

Cohen said his future is uncertain but he will definitely be around to defend his silver medal in the 2009 Summer Deaflympics in Taipei.

All in all, Cohen does the best he can despite being deaf.

"I just try to do the best I can and am glad to be an inspiration to anyone," Cohen said. "Nothing is impossible, but you have to work for it."

© 2005 The Rocket