A college soccer player lost her hearing last summer time, but not her starting spot

gmu niomi 1024x682 - A college soccer player lost her hearing last summer time, but not her starting spot
George Mason University defender Niomi Serrano, a fourth-year junior from Colonial Forge High School in Stafford, Va. (GMU athletics)

Last spring, simply as she was getting back from a significant knee harm that had robbed her of the 2016 soccer season, George Mason University defender Niomi Serrano confronted a brand new subject.

When her teammates spoke to her, she wouldn’t reply.

“They thought I was being rude.”

She wasn’t being impolite. She couldn’t hear them.

At first, she thought she wanted to scrub her ears. She didn’t assume a lot of it till the summer time, when a painful case of swimmer’s ear — a bacterial an infection — made regular voices sound like whispers. The ache subsided, but the hearing in her proper ear did not return and, medical doctors informed her, by no means will. Her left ear is about 60 p.c purposeful and, she was informed, will proceed enhancing.

Specialists have been unable to find out what triggered her deafness or a approach to treatment it. And so she has tailored.

Off the sector, she wears an support in her proper ear, which has restored about 75 p.c of her hearing. On the sector, the place she is a three-year starter, the quantity and depth of in-game communication is excessive sufficient that she will get by with restricted hearing in her left ear, which, from her place on the correct facet of the again line, faces her teammates.

“I definitely have realized, losing my hearing, I am not the same person,” Serrano mentioned. “I get frustrated a little bit. I do struggle with it, but I just think it’s another challenge in life.”

Serrano and the Patriots (9-Eight-2) have gone 9-2-2 since shedding their first six matches and are the No. Three seed within the Atlantic 10 match. They will host No. 6 Virginia Commonwealth (9-5-Three) in a quarterfinal at 1 p.m. Sunday.

For Serrano, a graduate of Colonial Forge High School in Stafford, Va., the postseason is a welcome vacation spot after a attempting 15 months.

On the third day of preseason in August 2016, she tore the anterior cruciate ligament in her left knee and redshirted last fall. Ahead on her rehabilitation schedule, Serrano rejoined the squad for the spring exhibition season.

Her 2014 incoming class is tightknit, so when she didn’t reply to feedback and questions from teammates, they needled her in good nature.

“It was kind of like a joke in our class,” defender Kelsey Young mentioned. “We’d say something and Niomi would be like, ‘What did you say?’ And we would say, ‘Oh my God, Niomi, you are deaf!’ It then got a little more serious.”

They started to note that talking on Serrano’s proper facet would go fully unheard.

“We were in the locker room and [Young] would be speaking to me and I would just be looking down at the floor,” Serrano recalled. ” ‘Ni, Ni, Ni,’ and I wouldn’t reply. She informed me, ‘You should get it checked.’ ”

In the summer time, the swimming an infection deepened the issue. Antibiotics cured the ache but not the hearing loss. After failing 4 hearing assessments, she was fitted for the help.

Coincidentally, Serrano had taken three years of signal language in highschool. In moments when she will’t absolutely hear one thing, she finds herself reverting again to these expertise and utilizing hand gestures with out realizing it.

“So I have a backup plan,” she joked, “if I need it.”

The hearing loss has not affected her steadiness or equilibrium, permitting her to storm the correct wing and be a part of the assault as she at all times had. This season, Serrano has two assists, transformed each of her penalty-kick makes an attempt and logged the third-most minutes on the group.

“It was pretty traumatic for a teenager and an athlete who takes care of herself and is physically fit,” Patriots Coach Todd Bramble mentioned. “Most athletes really feel a way of invincibility, so when one thing like that occurs, even exterior the soccer subject, it’s actually troublesome.

“But for me, it hasn’t affected her one bit on the sector. I haven’t observed any change in her means to play, talk, hear and perceive.”

In the warmth of play, Serrano mentioned, teammates know to talk at the next quantity.

The hearing points have been the most recent in a sequence of private challenges. She had deliberate to play at North Carolina State but determined to remain near house due to household diseases: While Serrano was in highschool, her mom battled most cancers — she’s wholesome now — and her father suffered a stroke, a mind tumor and now copes with a number of sclerosis.

“I feel like I haven’t really caught a break. I just felt it was never-ending,” she mentioned. “I am not upset about it. There’s nothing I can do about it. I don’t take [the hearing loss] as an embarrassment. I’m not ashamed of it. I have accepted it. It’s just who I am.”

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