Bigger than sound waves: Concord swimmer makes a splash

ELKHART, Ind. (WNDU) - Playing a sport usually requires good communication. But what happens in a sport when talking takes a back seat?

“He's one of the men, one of the guys,” Concord swim coach Tom Johnson said.

Ben Ramer has only been swimming for four years, but he's already making a splash.

“I think he's become a more confident person athletically, socially, academically over the last year,” Johnson said.

There's just one difference with Ben.

“I'm human. I'm just like the next person. The only difference is that I'm deaf,” Ramer communicated in American Sign Language through an interpreter.

That difference hasn't meant different treatment; the Concord swim team has welcomed him with open arms.

“Like what we would do with any kid, you know. You want him to feel welcome, part of the team, part of the family, make him feel like he's one with us,” teammate Hayden Gill said.

Ben grew up in a deaf household and being a part of the swim team is helping him break out of his shell.

“It's good for him to be in this community,” Ben’s father, Lynn Ramer, signed. “With this swim team, each individual is different, but you know they are all friends. They are all teammates.”

“He has to learned how to open up,” signed Michele Ramer, Ben’s stepmom. “Kind of get out of that shell. Not be afraid -- you know, 'I'm deaf. I'm just one person out of millions of hearing people.' But to show, 'Hey, I'm deaf and I can do this.'”

Concord has an interpreter to help Ben during his classes and practices.

“In some ways, it's made me a better coach in that I'm more specific and more direct in the way that I might communicate with all of our athletes,” Johnson said.

His teammates are doing whatever they can to communicate with Ben. Some are even learning sign language.

“They were kind of hesitant at first,” Ben signed. “You know, it's awkward. They would get out white boards and write with me and try to communicate with me, joke around with me. I think that helped us become a close-knit family.”

“I don't think his deafness changes anything,” Gill said. “It's something he has and, you know, we're still friends and we deal with that the way it is.”

When Ben competes, a light is placed at the end the pool and flashes when the race begins.

“In swimming, you don't need to hear anything,” Ben signed. “We're all in the same competition.”

His parents couldn't be any prouder and say this experience is preparing him for the future.

“With Ben, he's done such a wonderful job,” Lynn Ramer signed. “I couldn't be more proud of him.”

“It kind of encourages him to think, 'How can I problem-solve?'” Michele Ramer signed. “With the hearing people and the hearing community, it's good for him because he can make those adaptations and challenge himself.”

Ben says that others in the deaf community shouldn't be afraid to leave their comfort zone.

“Just try. I mean, it makes for great success,” Ben signed. “If you're a competitive person, just remember that you're human and you have the strength to do it.”

Ben hopes to continue to improve throughout the remainder of his high school years and that maybe one day he can compete in the Deaf Olympics.

16 News Now would like to offer a special thanks to Jesse Vasquez for interpreting with this piece.