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Deaf Olympics

by Janet Nesler

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Michael Lewis has been playing soccer since he was 6 years old. This year all that effort is really going to pay off because in August Lewis earned his place on the 1997 United States Men's Deaf Olympic Soccer Team, which will compete in Copenhagen, Denmark, next summer.

Both Michael and his older brother R.J. were adopted and brought into the country by Robert and Phyllis Lewis of Catlettsburg. R. J. came first and Robert was adopted when he was five years old. Both came from Seoul, Korea. It took a year and a half to recognize and identify that Robert was profoundly hard of hearing.

"We made a decision to keep Michael in a hearing world with a hearing aid," said Michael's father, Robert Lewis. "We bought him a membership to the Y.M.C.A. to encourage him to find something to give him self©esteem. He got on a soccer team and really seemed to have a talent for it."

While with the Y.M.C.A. Lewis played on the Rowdies club team from Huntington. In the seventh grade he was a water boy for the Boyd County team and the coach asked him if he would like to play and he said that he would. At the end of his senior year, because of an extremely good record and the fact that Lewis had played longer that any other team member, Boyd County High School retired his jersey. It now hangs in a glass case in the entrance
hall of the school.

Soccer seems to be a family thing for the Lewises. Lewis's mother was varsity coach for three years, however during his senior year she resigned as coach so she could set in the grandstand and watch him play.

Phyllis Lewis learned about the deaf soccer team through a soccer magazine she picked up at a sporting goods store. Encouraged by both his parents Lewis decided to try out. "Michael turned out to be the youngest member on the Olympic team", said Robert Lewis, "38 men, between the ages of 19 and 35 tried out for the team and Michael earned a spot on the 18 man

Lewis has already made a mark on the team. 50 seconds into the exhibition game Lewis scored the first goal and then went on to score the second goal in the team's 2-1 exhibition game victory over IFC (International Finance Corporation) , who is a top contender from the Washington DC area.

"I'm so excited I can hardly wait to go", said Lewis. "At first it didn't seem real, but as I begin to work out and get ready, I realize it is an opportunity to live out a dream. For Spring training I will be going to a training camp either in California or Florida, then in April we will go to either Washington DC or Brazil for exhibition games."

Lewis will have no problem communicating with the other members of the team because he practices signing as well as wearing a hearing aid.

"There was very little signing at the exhibition game because all the players were confident players and each one seemed to know what the other would do", said Bob Lewis.

"I'm really glad I get to play without my hearing aid", said Michael Lewis. "It gives me a sense freedom. When playing with a hearing aid, it always has to be protected from being hit during
a game. On the deaf team the referee will give hand signals instead of sounding a buzzer."

Lewis will be working with a trainer to set up a routine to strengthen his upper body and will be running and riding a bicycle to strengthen his legs.

"European style soccer is played a lot rougher than in the US," said Robert Lewis. "We play rough soccer but don't use the upper body as much. Michael will be working out at the Y.M.C.A. and riding his bike at least 8 miles a day. In soccer the teams are constantly moving and in the course of a game Michael will run over 8 miles and make at least 2400 decisions. It takes a mental agility as well as physical to be a good player."

The 18th World Games for the Deaf in Denmark will have athletes representing many countries and their deaf and hard of hearing population. To qualify for the team, one must have a 55 decibel loss in his best ear. A normal range is from 0-to-15 or 20. Most of the players are totally deaf. They are excellent athletes, except they are true amateurs and they are ordinary people with jobs to take care of or classes to attend at their universities. They receive no pay for their participation in the World games, but like the regular Olympics they need support for the expenses associated with international competition, with being able to represent America.

Lewis must raise the money for his trip to Denmark plus all the rest of the schedule. Robert Lewis has become more involved in the Deaf Game than just watching his son play. He has volunteered to work with public relations and to help with fund©raising for the Games. He will be looking for ways to raise money locally and on a national level for the AAAD (American Athletic Association for the Deaf).

"Deaf Olympics has very little publicity. I found out right off everyone knew about Special Olympics, but few had heard of the Deaf Olympics and I believe this is because of the communication barrier. They have not gotten press coverage like the other groups."

Michael Lewis is the only one in Kentucky and possibly the first Kentuckian to ever participate in soccer. The deaf schools in the states are where most of the players come from and after this
year the competition will be closed for 4 years. Tryouts were held at Gallaudet University in Washington DC, the Nation's best known University for the Deaf.

"It was an emotional time after tryouts and they posted the roster of the team," said Robert Lewis. Mike checked to see if his name was on the list. When he came out I just looked at his
face and knew that he had made it."

The US Deaf Soccer Team is lead by Head Coach Bill T. Charlton, currently coaching at Beaver College in Philadelphia. The other members of the team are from all over the US. There are four alternate players.

Lewis currently attends Ashland Community College where he is majoring in Audiology. School and living in a hearing world has not been easy at times for Lewis, but he maintained a high grade average all through high school and he has been doing a lot of things he hasn't done before since becoming a member of the Olympic team. One of the things was making his first speech at an athletic banquet recently. With his determination to meet life and his talent for soccer, he will make Kentucky proud as he plays for America in Denmark.


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