Ashley Zemeski is a 23 year old defender who joined the USDWNT in the summer of 2017.

I was born profoundly deaf in both ears. Because I did not have a newborn hearing screening, I was not diagnosed at birth. My parents figured it out when I was about 9 months of age. However, the medical diagnosis did not come until 6 months later, in December of 1996.

My parents chose to implant me with a cochlear implant in my right ear in September of 1997. For those who don’t know, a cochlear implant is a device that electrically stimulates the nerve fibers in the cochlea that head towards the brain, bypassing the outer, middle, and inner ear. It connects to the ear via a magnet that connects an external processor with the internal mechanisms.

At the age of 12, my parents explained to me why they chose to do so, and gave me the choice to keep using it or to take it out and live life as I was without it.

Socially, I struggled through kindergarten and elementary school. Children are not always kind. I also was not comfortable with who I was with the cochlear implant. I remember that in early elementary school, I would not wear my hair up, because then people would see my implant and ask me about it.

As I grew older, through middle school and high school, I struggled in different ways. Girls loved going to the pool and hanging out, and I always struggled in those situations, because I would have to take my implant out to get into the water, as it could not get wet.

Over time, I realized that the people that asked me about it were not being mean, but were purely curious and somewhat ignorant. It took some time, but I became more confident in myself as a deaf person with a cochlear implant, and began being able to tell others about it as well. The more open I was about it, the more comfortable people were with me, and the curiosity turned into fascination.

I began playing soccer at about 5 years of age. I played travel ball up until U12, then played middle school soccer, high school soccer, and club ball. I then was given the opportunity to play at the college level at Eastern University. I am so thankful for the ability to play soccer. It truly is therapeutic to me. I graduated from Eastern University in May of 2018, and this past summer and fall, I did feel out of sorts. I was so used to running all summer preparing for an intense season in the fall, and I did not have that any more.

I am very disappointed that I did not hear about the USDWNT sooner. I heard about the team through one of my sister’s coaches, and immediately reached out. I tried out for the team at the Seattle camp in the summer of 2017, and have been a part of it since then. Nowadays, I am playing soccer as much as I possibly can, and staying fit in the meantime.

Being on the USDWNT is a privilege that I am so honored to have. It is every soccer girl’s dream, to get to represent their country by playing their favorite sport. I am truly excited to see what is to come, and to experience international tournaments.

Currently, I am a first year graduate student at Salus University, and I am studying to become an audiologist. My whole life I knew I wanted to do something related to science and something related to people. I always thought about physical therapy, because I grew up as an athlete. However, I never quite felt at peace with physical therapy, and realized that audiology was a perfect combination of people and science. It was also a field that I had a decent amount of experience in, as I had grown up with an audiologist for most of my life.

Being deaf is an experience in itself. A lot of people ask me “what does it sound like”? It is very hard to explain what it feels like to not hear anything at all. Others ask if I can hear normal with my cochlear implant, and that is also a really hard question to answer. I have no normal hearing to compare it with. I do still enjoy music very much, and love to sing, even though it is not always on key!

No obstacle has to stop you from being who you want to be. If anything, it should push you even more to get to where you want to go. My deafness has made me into who I am today. In my future career as an audiologist, I want to be able to have an impact on other children who are struggling with the same things that I have already faced. I want to let them know that their deafness is not something that should stop them from sports, music, theatre, or any other activities.

Deafness makes you unique. It is a God-given gift to inspire others around you. It is not always an easy road. But it definitely is worth it.