Keynote Speaker: Jeff Float
Swimming: If people take strength from what I‘ve done,” he says of overcoming his hearing loss, then that’s more important than a gold medal.
- Gold Medal Olympic Swimmer
- It was the first time I remember hearing distinctive cheers at a meet, who is 90% deaf in his right ear and 65% in his left.
When Jeff Float emerged from the pool after swimming the third leg for the U.S. in the 4 x 200-meter relay at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, he saw fists pumping in the stands, felt the vibrations of stomping feet against the pool deck and then, to his amazement, even heard the roar of the crowd.
“It was the first time I remember hearing distinctive cheers at a meet,” says Float, who is 90% deaf in his right ear and 65% in his left. “I’ll never forget what 17,000 screaming people sound like. It was incredible.” A minute later Bruce Hayes, swimming the anchor leg, held off West Germany’s Michael Gross, and Float, the swim team captain, became the only legally deaf athlete from the U.S. to win an Olympic gold medal.
Float lost most of his hearing and nearly his life to viral meningitis when he was 13 months old. He learned to read lips, but was often taunted at school because he spoke with a lisp. “Kids would boost their self-esteem by putting me down,” says Float, who wears a digital hearing aid. “Swimming gave me the self-confidence I couldn’t find anywhere else. Besides, my name isn’t Field or Court. It’s Float—I had to swim.”
“If people take strength from what I‘ve done,” he says of overcoming his hearing loss, “then that’s more important than a gold medal.”
Jeff Float was the first deaf swimmer to win an Olympic gold medal when he and his teammates broke the existing world record in the 800-meter freestyle race.
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