LOUISVILLE — Maddie Taylor was just three years old when her mom Tina called her to the phone to talk with an aunt.
It was supposed to be the kind of cute little conversation that happens a million times a day in a million different places around the world. A toddler has learned some new something, and friends and family want to know all about it.
This time was different. Even at such a young age, Taylor knew something wasn’t quite right.
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I can’t. My ear is broken.
Tina asked again.
I really can’t, Mom. My ear’s broken.
Testing confirmed that Taylor is completely deaf in her left ear, and partially so in her right. She’d already begun learning how to cope, having been responding to others through lip reading. If the impairment slowed her down at first, it didn’t slow her down much.
There were issues, of course, that she had to deal with. Rain prevented her from wearing a hearing aid in her right ear during her soccer matches — there was no need for one in her left. When that happened, it prevented her from hearing her coaches and teammates.
She developed techniques to manage the situation.
“The game for me is visual,” said Taylor, a sophomore defender on the Rollins women’s soccer team, one of four here this week competing for the NCAA Division II national championship. “People say you’ve got to hear and you’ve got to listen. For me, the game is very visual.
“I’ve got to look up and look around to see who’s talking to me. It’s very difficult for me to hear my goalkeeper, who’s right behind me. So I usually have to turn my body and keep looking back and forth to see what she’s saying. It’s a very visual game for me.”
If her hearing impairment ever slowed Taylor down, it didn’t do so much or for very long at all. While still a student at Orangewood Christian School in Florida, she was named to the Women’s United States National Deaf Team that won gold in the 2012 Deaf World Cup championships played in Turkey.
Playing in a foreign country was a culture shock, and so, too, was being around other deaf players for the first time in her career. She was admittedly nervous going into the experience.
“When I first tried out for the team, I started to realize that I’m not the only one who is deaf and loves playing soccer,” said Taylor, who also played with the deaf national team in the 2013 Deaflympics. “Getting to know these girls is unbelievable. They are my closest friends, my best friends.
“It’s really nice to know somebody who understands what I’m going through on the field and off the field. It’s been an absolutely amazing journey with them.”
After playing her freshman year at Anderson in South Carolina, Taylor opted to transfer closer to home. That’s how she wound up at Rollins, a college she’d driven by almost every day while going to and from high school.
Now that the Tars stand just two wins removed from the first women’s soccer national championship in school history, it’s a decision that has clearly paid off.
Rollins goes up against Colorado Mines in the second semifinal game on Thursday. Game time is 8 p.m. ET at Owsley B. Frasier Stadium.
“Words can’t even describe how much it would mean to me,” Taylor said. “All these years playing this sport, finally, you’ve made it this far. It’s giving me motivation to go even further to get that championship. You’ve got to take it day by day, practice by practice. Then all that hard work you’ve put together with your teammates, that feeling is just motivation to get there.”
A national championship is obviously the ultimate in athletic accomplishment. Yet for this particular student-athlete, it would seem to mean maybe even a little bit more because of the things she’s had to overcome to compete at such an elite level, both in college and on the international stage. Still, that’s all she is.
“I’m just a soccer player playing the sport that I love, following my dreams, playing my passion,” Taylor concluded. “I’m just another soccer player who wants to get that national championship.”