Beth Barbiers is a versatile outside back or forward and native of Atlanta, Georgia native who came to her first camp in 2017. Though the USDWNT did not go to the 2017 Deaflympics, Beth represented Team USA as a member of the Track & Field team.
I grew up hard of hearing in a hearing family but didn’t know it. As kid number five in a blended family, I was the quiet one who spent most of my time reading or off in the woods somewhere by myself.
I had always been the one who didn’t fit in and wasn’t included so naturally I gravitated toward team sports. My soccer career began as a complete accident. A girl was in the hall with a clipboard, desperately trying to recruit bodies for the inaugural high school season and I was bored with track. Running in circles wasn’t cerebral enough for me. Just starting out at 15 I knew I was behind developmentally, so opted for goalkeeper. This seemed like a better idea than attempting to run around with a ball at my feet. After all, my brothers had been throwing stuff at my head for years.
Our coach was an All-American striker out of SNU who took great pleasure out of rocketing balls at me in the guise of training. I was too stubborn to quit and no one else was dumb enough to want the job. That’s how a team ends up with a 5’1 goalkeeper, in case you’re wondering.
As a junior, I tried to join the Marine Corps but failed the hearing test three times. I was diagnosed with otosclerosis and told I’d be completely deaf in a year. That is when I found out I was hard of hearing. At 17 years old. My mother’s response was to say she had always thought I just wasn’t paying attention.
Life plan upset, I opted for college. I’d earned academic, track, cross country and soccer scholarships and was careful to mention I didn’t hear well in case I was missing things. A year went by and I hadn’t gone deaf so the matter floated away into the ether. I went from goalkeeper to center-mid my senior year. I recall being particularly frustrated by challenges from behind as I could not hear them approaching.
I bought my first set of hearing aids at 22 and was reintroduced to sounds like air conditioners and planes flying overhead. Years later I’d lost more hearing but as long as the volume was turned up enough, I could get by. I was told there was a surgery to correct otosclerosis and I was a perfect candidate. Four surgeries later produced no improvement. A month after the last surgery I woke thinking my hearing aid had broken. In reality I’d lost nearly forty decibels and most of my speech clarity. I had become profoundly deaf overnight.
I was devastated and overwhelmed with feelings of isolation and hopelessness. Doctors discovered I did not have otosclerosis after all but a rare disease called Semicircular Canal Dehiscence. Google it. Some of the symptoms I experience include vertigo (at loud noises), abnormal amplification of internal body noises (I can hear my own heartbeat), tinnitus and hearing loss.
Late deafened. That’s what people call it. The hearing community I was a part of doesn’t know how to deal with it, especially if the afflicted is young. Doctors just prescribed happy pills and made sympathetic faces. I knew I had to find some way to cope so I turned to sports. It was a month after the USDWNT won their second World Cup. I clicked on a link to support the team, thinking I’d buy a t-shirt or sticker and received an email inquiring about my playing experience. I laughed and said I was retired. There was also a deaf track and field team with something called the Deaflympics in 2017. I looked up the times and decided I’d get back in shape and try to qualify in the marathon. Easy peasy, right?
A month before the qualifier I received an invite to training camp in LA with the USDWNT. My club team convinced me to go if only for the experience. I was nervous but excited and upon meeting the team I apologized for not signing as they were the first deaf people I’d ever met. Regardless, I’d found my people. After spending my whole life fighting nagging feelings of isolation and an undefinable loss even before being late-deafened, with this team I’d clicked into inclusivity. Somehow. We all come from different places and have different experiences but a void I’ve felt my entire life but could never fully define had something good to fill it. Support. Acceptance.
I left that first camp feeling hope. I have gratefully attended every camp since. I’m learning ASL to better communicate with my team. Their stories inspire me and make me laugh (and cry). We share struggle and triumph, we push each other to be the very best versions of ourselves.