Remember the recent Olympic soccer games? The roar of the crowds and shouts of the coaches and players as the U.S. women's team kicked and headed their way to gold? Now imagine doing that surrounded by silence.
That was the experience of the U.S. Women's Deaf National Soccer team, which won the gold medal in the World Deaf Football Championships July 26 in Ankara, Turkey. The cheers they felt as they defeated the Russian team 1-0 emanated from their own hearts.
They were led by their head coach, Yon Struble of Hampton, who is the head coach of the Carnegie Mellon Tartans women's soccer team.
"I want people to know about these amazing athletes," he said.
To qualify for the national team, players must have an average hearing loss of 55 decibels or more in their best ear. The players are required to remove their hearing aides when they play, a rule that creates an additional challenge for the players because removing the hearing aides causes balance problems, Mr. Struble noted.
"I'm humbled by their greatness," he said. "To be able to play a sport where you can't hear anything is amazing. They have to learn to play with their heads up."
Mr. Struble, who is not hearing impaired, said the coaches don't use sign language but they do have a system of signals to communicate with players.
The athletes live all over the country, so holdng practices is difficult.
"We don't get to train as a team as much as we'd like," Mr. Struble said. But they get plenty of training on their own as they play on club and college soccer teams. Players range in age from 18 to 38 -- some are new high school graduates while others are mothers who have jobs so they must juggle their schedules.
To qualify for the American team, the athletes attended tryouts in February in Atlanta and then a training camp in April in Columbus, Ohio, where housing and meals were provided by the Ohio School for the Deaf. The cost of training and travel is borne by the athletes.
The Americans defeated the fully funded Russian team, which practices together year-round.
"You can tell by how they play that they are a well-organized team, yet we won," Mr. Struble said. "I know part of the reason is the high-level club soccer our athletes play in their own home towns."
Mr. Struble and his wife, Shanna, moved here from Atlanta in 2010. Before coming to Pittsburgh, he coached at Georgia State University while also running a youth soccer team.
That's where he met Kate Ward, who is deaf and played soccer on an under-13 team. He kept in touch with her family over the years.
"She continued to play and when the opportunity came up to coach the national deaf soccer team, she got in touch with me," Mr. Struble said.
Kate was in Georgia's Olympic development program and played at the 2009 Deaf Olympics in Taipei, Taiwan. She and her longtime coach and family friend will be working together at practices along with other members of the national team as they train for the next Deaf Olympics, set for the summer of 2013 in Sophia, Bulgaria.
The world football championship tournament in Turkey consisted of 150 teams competing for gold, silver and bronze medals -- just like the summer Olympics in London.
"It's a huge event," Mr. Struble said.
"I had no idea until I became involved with this team. It's like a full-blown Olympics."
Rita Michel, freelance writer: email@example.com.