Lexington brothers make U.S. team for World Deaf Swimming Championships
August 7, 2011Lafayette Senior High School
One can hear the water splash as Bluegrass Marlins swimmers Kenneth and Edward Freeman pile up laps in the public pool at Tates Creek.
However, the brothers practice in silence.
They are deaf.
"I wouldn't exactly call it a handicap," Kenneth said after Thursday morning's workout. "We're just the same as everybody else. ... We can do what everybody else is doing, just without hearing."
Through the technology of cochlear implants, the Freemans are able to hear when out of water. For swimming, though, the implants must be removed.
Kenneth, 17 and a senior-to-be at Lafayette High School, and Edward, 14 and a Lafayette sophomore, are part of the 19-member United States team that will compete in the World Deaf Swimming Championships.
They will leave Aug. 1 for Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C., where they will train until leaving Aug. 4 for the competition (Aug. 6-13) at Coimbra, Portugal.
"I'm really excited," said Edward, Team USA's youngest member. "It will be a great experience."
The Freemans qualified for the team last year. In order to make the trip, though, each was required to raise $4,000 to cover expenses. Instead, they raised $5,000 each.
Their sister Mary, as well as parents Ken and Trish — all of whom hear — also will travel to Portugal.
"You see them when they're 4 and 5 and they get diagnosed with this hearing impairment and lose their hearing, and you think, 'How are things going to unfold?'" Trish Freeman said. "You never really think that something like this is in their future. And here we are, getting ready to head to Portugal, and it's just a real exciting time."
Kenneth was diagnosed with a hearing problem at 4 and was "profoundly deaf" by the time he was 6, according to Trish. Edward was diagnosed at 3 and deaf by 6.
Kenneth was the first to get a cochlear implant, at 7. Edward followed soon after. All along, though, the brothers were taught by their parents to not let lack of hearing hold them back.
"I would like to tell all the other people in the deaf community, especially the kids, 'Don't let your hard-of-hearing get in the way,' " Kenneth said. "You're capable of doing everything else everybody can do. ... The same amount of capabilities, just the same amount of potential. Just can't let it get in the way."
The Freemans, who have never competed against other deaf swimmers, cannot hear the starting horn. Instead, they rely on a light.
"Actually, it's a little bit of an advantage," Kenneth said, "because ... light travels a little faster than sound."
The brothers swam on Lafayette's 25th-place 400-yard freestyle relay team at the State Meet last February, and Kenneth also reached State on the Generals' 24th- place 200 medley relay. Top individual finishes in region competition were Kenneth's sixth place in the 100 breaststroke and Edward's 15th in the 100 butterfly.
The Freemans (including Mary, a Lafayette junior) also compete for the Bluegrass Marlins Swim Club. When Marlins coaches Roger Kehrt and Rick Babuka speak, the Freeman brothers read their lips.
"They work real hard," Kehrt said. "Truthfully, with their disability, I talk about them being some of my best listeners. They often listen with their eyes and watch things, and they're obviously great visual learners. It's been wonderful. They fit in with the group, just like any of the other swimmers."
In Portugal, the brothers will swim the 50-, 100- and 200-meter breaststroke. Edward also will swim the 100 backstroke, 100 butterfly and 400 freestyle. Kenneth will go in the 50 backstroke, 50 butterfly and possibly a relay.
"I'm hoping to come in second to Marcus Titus, really good college swimmer (at the University of Arizona and a member of the USA Swimming National Team), hoping to get some silvers," Kenneth said. "Hoping to have a great experience in Portugal."