Queens junior Heather Kennedy '15 has been playing soccer since she was four years old. It's a sport she's always loved and a talent she's always had. Her talent led her to compete collegiately for Queens where she plays forward, helping the team make it to the conference tournament for the past two years.
But Heather's story is a bit different than the rest of the players on the team. Heather is legally deaf, something that hasn't stopped her from attaining her goals on and off the field. She is part of the U.S. Deaf Soccer Team, a team of young women who represent the U.S at two international competitions that take place every four years: the Deaflympics and the World Cup.
To become a member of this highly competitive team, players must have a hearing loss of at least 55 decibels or more in each ear. Some wear hearing aids, but they must remove them before entering the field for competition. Others have cochlear implants and rely on sign language and lip reading in order to play mutely. Like any other team, players must go through a rigorous tryout process to make the cut.
During her daily life, Heather wears a hearing aid. She had never played soccer without it until the World Cup competition last year. It took a bit of getting used to but she relies on her teammates and lip reading when on the field.
"Soccer is a sport that requires players to know what’s going on around them at all times. When you take away your hearing, it becomes a whole different game that requires a whole different level of talent."
- Katie Talbert, Queens’ Head Women’s Soccer Coach
The U.S. Deaf Soccer Team has been remarkably successful. They won gold at the Deaflympics in 2005, 2009 and again this past summer in Bulgaria, playing teams from all over the world including Great Britain, Russia, Poland, Greece, Germany and Japan. More than 4,000 deaf athletes came together in Bulgaria for the event.
"I've used this experience to realize my hearing loss is not a disability but rather an advantage when I'm on the field with my Queens' teammates," said Heather. "If it weren't for their encouragement and support, I wouldn't have made the U.S. Deaf Soccer Team and had this amazing opportunity to strengthen my skills."
Back home in Charlotte, Heather has rejoined her Queens teammates as the 2013-2014 season gets underway. The Royals are currently ranked 22nd in the nation, their highest ranking in history, and third in the southeast region.
This year, the team set its sights on making it to the NCAA tournament. It will require a lot of hard work, dedication and making the most of each other's individual talents, including Heather's keen sense of what's going on around her on the field. Team members agree Heather's unique situation is a huge asset, but it has also helped to create a close-knit bond among them. The end result: a team with endless possibilities for success.