Samantha Elam doesn’t need to hear the crowd cheering. She sees their excitement, and that support has pushed her to numerous victories.
Currently a captain of the Olivet swim team, Samantha is a junior from Granada Hills, Calif., majoring in child development. During her time at Olivet, she has won third in the nation and a NAIA All-American in the 500-meter freestyle. She helped lead the Tigers to a fourth place finish at Nationals.
“Sam trained with the guys because no girl could keep up with her,” says Scott Teeters, head coach of Olivet’s swim team. “She was also instrumental in attracting an amazing incoming recruiting class. She lights up a room whenever she enters because of her heart and her attitude to serve others.”
But Samantha stands out from her teammates in one other way. She is deaf.
Distinguished, not disabled
Because of her hearing loss, Samantha qualified to be a swimmer in the Deaflympics.
The deaf sports movement goes back to the late 1800s, Since then, the International Committee of Sports for the Deaf (ICSD) has been working to provide sporting events for deaf people all over the world. The Deaflympics is the main sporting competition for this movement.
This past summer, Samantha competed at the Deaflympics in Sofia, Bulgaria. She left with two bronze medals. In the 400-meter freestyle for the United States, she clocked 4:43.44. In the 800-meter freestyle, she finished with a time of 9:38.25.
She can’t hear her coaches when she’s in the water or hear people cheering for her. But her hearing loss has never been a hindrance. “I’m able to prove that hearing loss doesn’t stop me from achieving my goals,” Samantha says.
In addition to her latest accomplishments, at the 2011 Deaf World Championships in Coimbra, Portugal, she received a bronze in the 800-meter freestyle and a gold for both the 200-meter freestyle and 800-meter freestyle. In 2009, she earned a bronze at the Deaflympics in Chinese Taipei.
Finding her zone
Samantha has been swimming for 14 years and has acquired a passion for the sport. Her hearing loss is not a struggle but a part of who she is, and she never lets that get in the way. She has enjoyed competing at various events, especially the Deaflympics.
“It’s nice to be with other people who are like me,” she says.
She considers her greatest achievement to be the deaf world record that she and her three teammates set in the 800-meter free relay and receiving the bronze medal at the Deaf World Championship.
One of her greatest fans and supporters is her mom, Dana.
“She’s always pushed me to go beyond my limits,” Samantha says.
Samantha’s story is being told. Amanda Salem and Stephen Fell of Cambria Films wanted to tell the story of deaf swimmers, their motivation and struggle. This documentary, “Swimmer’s Ear,” is still in production. Samantha is featured, along with other swimmers.
“The movie will help get other deaf people involved in the sport. We’ll find other competitive swimmers that we don’t know about yet and encourage them to compete,” she says.
Her advice to them: “Don’t let your hearing loss affect you. Do what you love, get in there and keep going. You’re like everyone else.”