Ask Steve: A Deaf Triathlete Needs Your Advice

>> Thursday, May 06, 2010

I received this e-mail about 10 days ago from Deanna (AKA CyborgQueen on BeginnerTriathlete).

(Words made bold were done by me for effect.)

....Since you're very experienced with running races (umm, duh, that's given), I'm curious what's your opinion of this.

I'm deaf. This is my first season of anything. I have my first 5k this weekend, and first Tri in a couple weeks. And no...this is a FUN race, First race, and I just want to finish! No A/B/J/Q/Z crap. :-)

Now, I am wondering if it's valuable, not just for me, but for other racers, to know that I'm deaf by wearing a sign on my back that says "DEAF".

While I'm proud that I'm deaf and to do races to prove that I can do anything, but I don't want to be such a huge showoff (although, the center of attention would be nice). I'm doing it because I've often ridden around town and have people sounding like they're whispering, "On your left", and they get ticked off...they didn't realize that I'm deaf and you have to yell. I do have cochlear implants (two of them..hence why I'm Cyborg), and I can hear very well, but with the wind and extra noise, I can't seem to filter them out or hear exactly what is being said.

Again, is it valuable for other racers to know that I'm not ignoring them, I'm Deaf by wearing a sign? I never have been to a race, so I'm not sure how much talking is done between the athletes.

Thanks for any input!

Deanna aka CyborgQueen

I have no experience with anything like this. I talked it over with Pharmie, and I replied with this:

....My wife and I both totally agree that you should wear something on the front and back of your chest that says something like "DEAF ATHLETE - FIRST 5K" in nice big letters. It would TOTALLY not be bragging, and many people out there would like to know that. Depending on the race and where you are "in the pack," there can be a lot of chit-chat or you could be surrounded by totally focused runners in their own little world.

If you don't mind, in a week or so I'd love to post your question to my blog and see what people think. There are probably people out there with great ideas for your first triathlon. And that's a MUCH bigger deal - I feel like it'd be quite important to make it known that you are deaf in a triathlon. In fact, the race management company may want to know ahead of time. There could be issues if they have a long course and short course race at the same time - there's usually someone yelling where to turn on the bike: "[this way] for long course, [this way] for short."

Good luck at your 5K!! Pin something to your front and back that points out that you are deaf. And if you get any photos, I'd TOTALLY post them along with your question for your upcoming triathlon!

Good luck, and congrats on racing!!!!

Steve Stenzel

Well guess what? Deanna did better than she thought she would at her first 5K! And she wore a sign on her back to alert those around her that she was deaf:

Deanna came back with one more thought recently:

Oh yeah, I forgot one more thing...

IF the majority says I should have a sign on my back saying "Deaf", for Bike and Run. How do I have it on? Since if I put it on before the swim, it will get wet and all the ink will be running down my nice Tri shirt...and that's not going to look good for photos...and you know, I gotta have good Photos. I've learned one not to do a Steve Stenzel's Finisher's Photos. I'll leave that up to you...

I probably could put it on my race belt, but won't the front part with the Race number bother me?

O.M.G. - I'm so scared. LOL!

Knockin' on my finisher's photos. Nice! ;) Ha! My thoughts are that she could put the race number in front on the race belt (like normal), and then safety pin a sign to the back of the race number. So I'd be race number in the front, "deaf" sign in the back. I'm not sure. Maybe.

So Deanna needs more advice! Do you think she should let the race management company know that she's deaf? Do you think she needs to take any special steps to make sure she has a safe race? (And that those around her have a safe race as well?) If you know of any deaf athletes, we'd LOVE to find out what they do to make racing fun and safe! All thoughts are welcome!! Deanna would love your input!

Congrats on your first 5K, Deanna, and here's to a GREAT first triathlon!!

p.s. I didn't ask, but Deanna told me why she goes by "CyborgQueen":

I'm known as Cyborg Queen because I have 2 cochlear implants, and my head is more expensive than your bike....each Processor is about $4000 to $5000...and I have 4 of them...that's NOT including the batteries, and the surgery.

I also registered for my first Half-Marathon in December. I'm excited...that I'll shit in my pants when I get there. :-)

I LOVE her attitude! Ha!

p.p.s. If you have a question that you think my readers might be able to help with, or if you have a question for me about my racing, training, or blogging, please shoot me a comment or an e-mail. I put up "Ask Steve" posts now-and-then. There are already some good ideas in the comments of the last post.


Priscilla Crawford 10:52 AM, May 06, 2010  

As a person who organizes outdoor events, I would appreciate knowing if someone was deaf and might need additional, non-verbal directions during the event. (As a race participant, I generally give a lot of room to other athletes, so I don't necessarily feel the need to know.)

Melissa 10:58 AM, May 06, 2010  

As far as tri racing, what about getting a cool race outfit from Splish that includes "Deaf Athlete" into the design? That would be super stylish and informative.

Nice job on the 5k Deanna!

cdnhollywood 11:02 AM, May 06, 2010  

I would notify a race coordinator for any situation you may feel is not a usual occurrence. They'd be able to make recommendations and the like for the athlete if any need to be made. This could be quite important for tris/dus, where there may be last-minute course changes or updates done just prior to the start of the race.

debbie 11:16 AM, May 06, 2010  

At a tri I did a few weekends ago, they had bright orange swim caps for people who felt that they had a medical condition that "merits us keeping a special eye on you." When you do your race, check to see if they have something like that.

We also have some blind athletes on our team. They ride and run wearing a bright yellow vest over their shirt that says "Blind Athlete", and just pull it on in T1

Anonymous,  11:25 AM, May 06, 2010  

Taylor Seavey is a deaf Xterra athlete:
One of his photos you can see he has it written on the back of his tri suit. I've seen blind athletes with Blind written on their calves, but I didn't see Taylor's calves to see if he does it, too.

CoachLiz 12:14 PM, May 06, 2010  

All of the suggestions above are very good. Having a Splish top with "Deaf Athlete" on the front and back would be very helpful not only for Deanna, but also for volunteers at aid stations, and fellow participants.

The race director does need to know.

Amy 12:49 PM, May 06, 2010  

I'd guess that you could use iron-on letters to put "Deaf" on any sort of shirt, which would avoid the ink running problem and the letters aren't too pricey. Especially if you wore the same top for all these major events (tri, half marathon, etc.). I rarely get to pass people on the bike, but I'm guessing that everyone passing me and yelling out "on your left" would benefit if they knew I couldn't hear 100%. Please have Deanna keep us posted on how the tri goes!

Danielle 1:04 PM, May 06, 2010  

That girl rocks! I have a friend with a hearing impaired daughter and will send her the link! I have no idea what to tell her to do as my first tri (Rev3 in Middlebury CT) is on June 5th and I am freaking out.

My "Ask Steve" question is this: What do I WEAR? Maybe Pharmie can help? (I'm a girl). I tried on tri shorts and a shirt and it was SO TIGHT. It was Louis Garneau brand - the medium shorts were SO tight, the large were tight around the legs, but a little saggy at the waist, and the shirt I tried on (a large) was SO TIGHT and I took one step and it rolled up exposing my whole stomach. Any thoughts? I'm 5'11 and at the normal weight for my height, and was shocked by the fit of these clothes as I am pretty much a straight up Medium.

RunningLaur 1:09 PM, May 06, 2010  

Love this question.
I've been involved with planning and executing several races, and I can say from that perspective that it is definitely best to let the race director know beforehand. It's always best to share information just to make race day easier.

Having a sign or lettering on your person too is a great thing to do - even just for small things like the people at aid stations yelling out "Water!" and "Gatorade!" They may be able to pay extra attention to help.

One last thought. She has any sort of medic alert bracelet or Road ID type thing - I'd wear it as well. As always, the more information, the better!

Cyborg Queen 1:20 PM, May 06, 2010  

I *never* thought about the iron on letters! THAT's what I'm gonna do! I bought one Tri top that I probably will use for the rest of the year, and one good running top (or two), that I probably will use for some of my run Races.

Thanks! Keep the suggestions coming!

Danielle - Politically correct term to call us is "deaf" or "Deaf" (with capital D for those who is part of the Deaf Culture..that's a whole 'nother can of worms). It's like calling Little People, "midgets" or gosh-forbid, "munchkins". I'm not "impaired". LOL!

As for your Tri-Suit - You may have gotten one size too small. Tri clothes are supposed to be "snug", but not "blood cutting off" tight. I don't give a hoot's ass if it's tight...I want to look decent. You may want to look into Zoot or Sugoi clothings. You may have too long of a torso, and my stepsister is tall, so she wears Zoot Tri clothes, and haven't had any issues of "riding up".

I have RoadID that says, "Cochlear Implants - NO MRI". It's not going to be fun if they did an MRI on me and have my implants in my head come flying out...that'll be a messy thing to clean up.

Keep 'em coming!

Viper 1:51 PM, May 06, 2010  

Congrats on your first 5K, Deanna. I've seen a Deaf runner at the Akron Marathon who had a fancy-looking tank top that said "Deaf Athlete" on it. I don't know if that is something he purchased or made. Might be worth looking into. Also, I think it would be good to notify the race company. Good luck with the half marathon in December and training for your first tri!

Kovas Palubinskas 3:03 PM, May 06, 2010  

Deanna, Thanks for letting Steve share this with us. I would not have thought about this possibly being a problem, but as a future race director, I would definitely want to know if there were Deaf athletes, just to make sure they were taken care of with directions, etc. People in races get tunnel vision and I can see how you would be worried that your possible lack of response might tick them off. Congratulations on your first 5K and best of luck with your triathlon!

Ryan 3:08 PM, May 06, 2010  

I definately think she should inform the race director. You have a good point that there is a lot of verbal directions in a race and if can't hear them... you might be running and extra 3 miles.

As an athlete on the course, I'd want to know. On the bike it can be fast and crowded... if I knew someone could not hear me, then I would know what I can and cannot do around them unless they see me. Some moves require a verbal notice (passing in a crowd, narrow road, etc).

Definately let people know!

One suggestion is to have a custom jersey printed up with "DEAF ATHLETE, MOVE OUT OF MY WAY!" =) on the back and front would be cool. I think Verge sports make a custom jersey?

Anonymous,  3:11 PM, May 06, 2010  

I think it is good to both notify the race director and have something on the back of your shirt. In a 5K it may not matter so much (since so many people wear earphones, I assume people can't hear me.) But, especially on the bike in the tri I can see that it would really be important.

Oh, be careful with iron on letters and synthetic don't want the iron to burn/melt your expensive top. Maybe talk to a silk screener to see if they could silk screen on that material. If all else fails you could sew on letters, just be sure they don't rub funny.

durvish 3:54 PM, May 06, 2010  

Go to

It'd make a great custom jersey!

SSB 7:43 PM, May 06, 2010  

There is a female blogger who is deaf and did an IM. I want to say her name is Meredith and she did either IMAZ or IMF a few years ago. I don't remember more details and don't follow her blog. I think she had a suit that said Deaf Athlete on the back of her kit or something. That way people approaching her on the bike would know she couldn't hear them if they said on your left. Someone else might know who she is.

I think it would be a good idea.

SSB 9:13 PM, May 06, 2010  

Tracked her down...

Xenia 5:32 AM, May 07, 2010  

Congrats on the 5K, Deanna, and good luck with the tri and half-marathon!

JillyG 3:52 PM, May 07, 2010  

Steve and Deanna -- I am hearing-impaired and without my hearing aid, I am pretty much deaf. When I am unable to wear my hearing aid (swimming and sometimes running), I do let others around me know that I can't hear them unless I am reading their lips - I've never worn a sign, but I can see how it might be helpful. I pretty much just keep to myself and do my best to be considerate of other racers. That said, I wonder just how many people I've ticked off during races over the years because I didn't hear them.

andy 9:11 AM, May 12, 2010  

Hi everyone,

I am a new volunteer guide at Achilles International, an organization that helps physically challenged athletes compete in mainstream sports i.e running, triathlons, etc.

Generally if the course is well marked, I find that the verbal directions prior to a race is useless and impossible to memorize.

Our athletes don't wear BLIND or DEAF on their shirts. For the blind, they have a guide with a tether on the swim/ run course, tandem bike on the bike--- so it's understood they are being assisted. For the deaf, generally if you stay on the right side while running and biking - hold your position. If you're making a pass then you pass on the left. This is obviously for safety reasons but none of our athletes that I'm aware of ran into issues by following this rule.

If you are part of a world-wide known organization like Achilles, and they provide an achilles singlet/t-shirt --- this provides an additional notice to participants they have some sort of physically challenged issue.

By the same token, it doesn't hurt to have "DEAF" written on your shirt to bring awareness that having this impairment shouldn't prevent you from doing anything. It brings inspiration to athletes!

Congrats Deanna on your first 5k !

My story got published on USAT for those that are interested in guiding athletes (


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