Breaking the silence

By: Emmi Rubera

Communication is one of the most important things when it comes to being on a sports team. From hearing your teammate’s words of encouragement, to play calling to hearing the whistle blow, communication is a vital part of sports. But for athletes who are hearing impaired like Josh Ratusny, such communication can seem nearly impossible. Because of this, hearing-impaired athletes like Ratusny have to develop different ways to communicate.

Ratusny getting a hit during a set. Photo credit Sam Su

“Sometimes I’ll teach my teammates like some sign language and sometimes we use our phones and write notes or text and show each other the text most of the time but the best way we communicate is phone communications or sign if they know it,” says Ratusny.

Ratusny is one of the many hard-of-hearing students at the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT). In fact, RIT has more than 1,100 deaf and hard-of-hearing students on the campus. But out of these students, he stands out when it comes to athletics.

Ratusny plays an array of different sports on campus including volleyball, basketball, and, ice hockey.

“I have always played (sports). I’m like the most athletic person in my family. I play volleyball, basketball, and, ice hockey here at RIT” says Ratusny.

Ratusny getting a hit during a set. Video credits: Emmi Rubera

Ratusny has faced many challenges regarding communication while playing sports, but the pandemic brought even more of a challenge due to the mask mandate.

“Starting in 2020 when Covid hit everyone was required to wear masks and that was a problem because you know I grew up reading lips,” says Ratusny. “I use mainly lip-reading honestly and with a mask on I can’t see to read lips anymore so that so that was a real challenge because I had to figure out body language and facial expressions and go from there and be patient.”

Despite the challenges, Ratusny faces he finds ways to overcome them by actually teaching his teammates some sign language to better their communication.

“I’ve had to get better about reading body language and using texts with my teammates. We have different signs that I use with some of my teammates that works pretty well,” says Ratusny.

Ratusny says the teams he plays on do a great job of making him feel welcomed.

“My teammates are always really cool about like working with me and making sure I’m included, even though you know life gets hard sometimes they’re always there,” says Ratusny.

Dell Danusaputro is one of the intramural sports managers at RIT and also plays on the same volleyball team as Ratusny. He thinks Ratusny is a very committed athlete and always sees him on the courts in the Student Life Center on campus.

“I see him (Ratusny) quite consistently (at the SLC), as much volleyball that he plays he loves to play basketball too so I always see him playing with his intramural team as well as on his own with friends for fun,” says Danusaputro

Danusaputro and Ratusny playing a scrimmage against each other. Photo credits: Sam Su

Danusaputro says that Ratusny is very vocal and they find ways to communicate with each other during sets.

“Josh is also an excellent communicator despite his hearing as he is also one of the more vocal members on the team,” says Danusaputro. “As a setter, I’m calling out plays with my hands, sometimes I find I don’t need to speak to him anyway but I’ll give him a signal and he’ll know exactly what I want to do with him.”

Cal Bawden is another one of Ratusny’s teammate and good friends. They both play the same position on the Men’s Club Volleyball team. Bawden says that he has worked on ways to better communicate with Ratusny.

“I’ve learned to annunciate my words more and to just like move my mouth more, especially because I don’t know any sign language,” says Bawden.

Bawden says that eye contact is important when interacting with Ratusny.

“We at least have to make sure we are looking at him but like if people are like cheering for him on the bench he can’t really hear so eye contact is pretty crucial when it comes to talking with him,” says Bawden

Bawden says the Ratusny enjoys a good competition and they have a good time playing together.

“He’s (Ratusny) very enthused,” says Bawden. “He is also a very emotional and expressive player where he gets like high highs and low lows like when he’s on a roll and feelin it he plays really good but if we are playing a bad team he tends to get bored but its actually really fun playing with him because he’s always making us laugh and cheering us up and he is honestly one of our best players.”

Ratusny will continue his athletics at North Greenville University this fall. He breaks communication barriers every time he steps foot on a court. He continues to prove that being hard of hearing has never and will never hold him back from doing what he loves.



Categories: Campus Life, college students, COVID-19, rochester, Sports

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