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July 31, 2005

Go-kart racing opens up new world for deaf youngster

From: LaCrosse Tribune, WI - Jul 31, 2005

By JEFF BROWN / Tribune Sports Editor

WEST SALEM, Wis. — In youth baseball when someone shouted, "It's a can of corn," after a routine fly ball was lifted toward Hunter Boardman, he didn't acknowledge them.

He just couldn't.

When he failed to get the snap count right while playing youth football, his teammates often times weren't very nice to him. "Why can't he get it right?" was almost certainly mumbled by someone.

Hunter couldn't get it right because he never had the chance. Hunter's world, for most of his first nine years, was silent. He couldn't hear the crack of the bat, the strategic words of his coaches, or the shouting — good or bad — of his teammates.

Hunter, you see, was born with a virus called Group B strep. In a number of cases, babies with this virus are given medications to help them survive. Hunter was given medications, but Peter Boardman, Hunter's father, said one of the side effects of some medications is deafness.

Hunter, not by choice, was suddenly different. And his world growing up, at times, wasn't a very happy place to be.

"He was having a lot of difficulty with other sports. Other kids would pick on him," Peter said. "I called my wife one day while I was at work and said, 'Kelli, let's try something. I've got an idea.' "

Vroom. Vroom. Vroom.

Peter began asking around about go-kart racing, and what it took to get started. First of all, it took money — considerable money when you're starting from scratch. To his amazement, one person, then two, then three and four came forward to help — with finances, with parts, with a trailer to haul the go-kart in.

Literally, the wheels were turning.

Peter didn't let Hunter know what was going on until one day he came home from work and told his son he needed help unloading something.

"He didn't have a clue when I brought it home. His eyes popped open. 'Whose is that?' he asked," Peter said. "He couldn't believe it."

The go-kart and go-kart racing have opened up a new world for 11-year-old Hunter, and honestly, his father, too.

"Happy," said Hunter through a sign language exchange with his father. "It's a lot nicer here."

Hunter was smiling from the time he arrived at the Coulee Go-Kart Raceway, which is located adjacent to the La Crosse Fairgrounds Speedway in West Salem, Wis., to the time the left. Well, almost. He wasn't real happy to finish third in his first heat race and second in his feature.

Competitive spirit, you see, has no sound.

"(Entering Friday night's action) he's won three weeks in a row here," said Kate Schaitel, who operates the track with her husband, John, and races as well. "When his dad called here and explained the situation, we didn't hesitate to let him race. I thought it was great."

Track officials, such as the flagman, treated Hunter just like any other rookie. They went over the rules, what the flags mean and what procedures to follow. They explained that sportsmanship wasn't an option, it was mandatory.

"You wouldn't know he's any different. Word of mouth is the only way people know he's deaf," said Ann Degenhardt, who was busy doing the flagman duties Friday night. "Look at that smile on his face. He's having a blast."

As other competitors started arriving at the track Friday night, they waved and said hello to both Hunter and Peter. Before long, Kyle Peters, who races in the Junior 2 division, came over and started hanging around Hunter.

Hunter pointed to the rear right tire, picked it with his fingernail, and immediately Kyle knew that Hunter was ready to try out some brand new tires that night. There were some hand gestures on Kyle's part, but somehow, the two communicated without words.

"I don't know sign language. I think he knows what I'm saying," Kyle said. "When he comes off the track I'll give him a thumbs up or a thumbs down.

"A lot of learning about racing is listening to other people, so I'm sure it's harder to learn when you're not hearing (that advice)."

That hasn't stopped Hunter. He has been able to compensate for his near total hearing loss by using his other senses, including his vision, to level the playing field.

"He knows if it's running good or bad. He knows how many RPMs the motor is running," Peter said. "He's got a computer (on the steering wheel) that tells him the RPMs, but I don't think he even uses that. He feels the vibration of the motor, and can tell if its idling or reved up."

His peripheral vision, Peter said, "is excellent."

"You can see him turn his head slightly (while racing), and he knows where the other karts are," Peter said. "He can pick up on another kart coming up behind him."

How does Hunter do this?

"It's not hard," he said, again signing to his father.

Two years ago, Hunter had a cochlear implant — an electronic device which is implanted in the skull, then when attached to an external device, helps him hear sounds. While it may open up tremendous opportunities at Logan Middle School this fall where Hunter will be a sixth-grader, he doesn't use it at the track.

At the track, Hunter wants to be just like everybody else. And for the most part, he has been.

"They (other racers) don't treat him like he's any different," said Peter, wearing a smile that spoke volumes. "The last few years have been pretty tough on him. This has been a great situation for him."

And for his parents.

If Hunter doesn't do what he is asked at home, or doesn't do well in school, the go-kart is a great bargaining chip.

"What happens if you don't do what you're supposed to?" Peter asked Hunter.

"Don't listen, sell car fast," Hunter said.

Jeff Brown can be reached at (608) 791-8403, or e-mail at

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