Brandon Van WykImagine competing in a race where you can’t hear the starter say “Go!”

For Brandon Van Wyk, a competitive swimmer who is hard of hearing, this is what each swim meet is like. Despite this challenge, Brandon is determined to succeed, and on August 17 he will be representing Canada at the World Deaf Swimming Championships in San Antonio, Texas.

Brandon, a Faculty of Mathematics student, was just four months old when he was diagnosed with bilateral retinoblastoma, a cancer of the retina. To save his sight, Brandon underwent chemotherapy that managed to save some vision in one eye, but cost him his hearing. At two years old, he was enrolled in speech therapy in an effort to coax him into speaking. It was there that they discovered his hearing loss.

I was excelling in therapy, until I learnt the letter "g". After I reached that point, my parents and doctors realized that I had been reading lips the whole time, and that I had a moderately mild hearing loss in both of my ears. 

Swimming with a hearing impairment comes with its own unique challenges. At each meet, the referee uses a whistle to tell swimmers when to step onto the block or when to jump into the pool. Starters will announce through a speaker when it is time for swimmers to take their marks and the race itself is signaled with a starting gun. All of the auditory cues can be easily missed by someone who is hard of hearing and can put them at a serious disadvantage.

In the shorter distance races, the start is everything.  It's hard to make up a bad start in a race that lasts less than a minute. Also, once my ears are in the water, I hear absolutely nothing.

Brandon, who has been swimming competitively for seven seasons, first learned about the World Deaf Swimming Championships last November and immediately jumped at the opportunity. Unfortunately, his preparation for the competition was stopped when he broke his foot and couldn't swim for eight weeks. 

Never one to back down from a challenge, Brandon dove back into the water as soon as he could, working on rebuilding his endurance and strength. His hard work paid off and in June he was selected to represent Canada at the World Deaf Swimming Championships.

With the meet quickly approaching, Brandon is excited to travel to San Antonio and hopes to connect with swimmers who have a similar story. In preparing for the world championships, Brandon is grateful for the support from his coaches, friends and family. 

My family at home is super supportive of what I have been doing, and so are my teammates, both at school and at home. All of this support means that there is a lot of good luck wishes coming to me.

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