The 2016 Deaf World Cup begins on June 20 in Salerno, Italy. The United States Deaf Soccer Women’s National Team (USDWNT) is the reigning Deaf World Cup champions and three-time Deaflympic gold medalists (2005, 2009, 2013). The team has not lost an international match and stands at 21-0-0, with 122 goals for and 8 against. The U.S. takes on Turkey on June 22. The full schedule is here.
Ahead of the tournament, defender Sydney Andrews shares her story and thoughts on her team.
“When I am with them, I can finally breathe, only I didn’t know I had been holding my breath.”
To start, I would like to communicate my feelings for and about the team. This group of women is the most amazing, genuine, talented, and hard-working group I have ever met. We come from different corners of the United States, grew up differently, communicate in distinctive ways — yet, when we come together we are united not only by the fact that we are all deaf but also by the beautiful game we play.
It was during my senior year of high school when I first heard about the team. I was being recruited to play college ball and one of the coaches approached me and told me I should check this team out. The coach at the time was Yon Struble so I reached out to him and he invited me to come to a tryout. I was 18, it was the first time I had been on a plane traveling by myself, and I was about to immerse myself into the deaf culture for the first time in my life. Talk about nervous, I thought I was gonna have a heart attack!
Fast forward 4-5 years and I have made so many memories, competed in high-level soccer, traveled the world, won two gold medals, and made friends for life. No, scratch that. Family. In 2012, I met my family. It was so amazing to finally be around people who understood what I go through on a daily basis. They understood the amount of effort I have to put in to follow simple conversations and keep up with the fast-paced world we live in. They understood my struggles and frustrations without me having to explain them. When I am with them, I can finally breathe, only I didn’t know I had been holding my breath.
These women inspire me every day to be the best possible me that I can be. I live every day to make them proud and live up to everything they have done. My teammates have master’s degrees, are lawyers, are preparing for grad school, are in the middle of their undergrad, and some are just figuring out what high school is all about.
I learn something from EVERY single one of them as I see the amount of heart and passion they have for the game of soccer and for their country, the hard work and dedication put into defying stigmas and showing the world how awesome they are despite struggling through a little adversity, and the respect and love they have for one another that is so awe-inspiring. These women are fighters, they are my heroes, and they should be America’s heroes too.
Earlier I mentioned that many of us use different forms of communication. There are also all levels of hearing loss. Some of us are completely deaf and don’t use devices to help, some wear hearing aids, and others have cochlear implants. Some of us only communicate verbally, some only with American Sign Language (ASL), and some of us are in between and use both. We come from families who are all deaf or we might have siblings who are deaf or we may be the only one in our families who is deaf.
When we play we all remove any devices we may use. This levels the playing field so that no one can hear on the field. Because of this, the refs have flags they wave to make calls signaling a foul or stoppage of the game. Many people ask, “Well, how can you communicate then on the field?” We don’t. We rely on our vision and our bond as teammates. We must trust one another and help one another. Instead of telling someone where we want the ball, we just instinctually know where the player is going to be. We all learn how one another plays and know that when it comes down to it, we’ll fight to the end for one another.
I talk about how in tune we all are to each other, right? Well, would you believe that we have never lost a game, EVER. Would you believe that we have four gold medals? Would you believe in this year alone we have only played together for eight days? Oh, and we are going to be defending our Deaf World Cup title in Italy? Well, you better believe it!
We are accepting nothing less than gold. It is difficult for us to come together and train for multiple reasons: we’re spread across the U.S. and we aren’t funded by outside sources. Wait, what? Each player is expected to raise or provide $5,000-$6,000 just to participate and travel to the World Cup. That sum does not include travel expenses, food, lodging, and so on for any training camps we might have before an event.
[dropcap]A[/dropcap]ll of us work very hard to come up with the money because we love soccer and we love our country — our team is our family, and you would do anything for family, right? I think it’s pretty incredible that not only do we get to represent our country and play the game we love so much and that has given us so much, but we pay to play and pay to have that opportunity. That’s how much this team, this country, and this game means to us and we want the rest of America to feel the same way, too. We want all of you to dream with us and go on an incredible journey with us in the hopes of bringing home yet another gold medal!
My biggest wish is to see this team and my teammates get the recognition we deserve. These women are fearless. These women are my best friends. This team is for America and we want America to be for us.
Editor’s note — You can help support the squad by purchasing items from the team’s Etsy shop or donating to the team’s GoFundMe campaign.