No limitations: BYU gymnast Pond overcomes deafness and limited sight to reach top levels

Published: Thursday, April 12 2007 12:30 a.m. MDT

Aimee Walker Pond goes airborne as she dismounts the bars during a gymnastics tournament at the Huntsman Center in February.

Scott G. Winterton, Deseret Morning News

PROVO — More than 1,000 fans packed the Smith Fieldhouse to support Brigham Young University's gymnastics team as it competed against No. 10 Oregon State and Utah State last month.

Their cheers could be heard from the sidewalk as each Cougar competed.

One of the highlights of the night was junior Aimee Walker Pond on the uneven bars. She delivered a solid routine and stuck her landing flawlessly. The performance earned a 9.825, a new career high for Pond.

She turned toward the stands, but the crowd was silent.

Her smile beamed as she saw thousands of hands waving wildly at her, cheering. For this elite gymnast, the sight was louder than all of the applause that reached the sidewalk — because Aimee Walker Pond is deaf.

Despite being born deaf in both ears and blind in one eye, which affects both balance and depth perception, Pond decided as an 8-year-old that she wanted to become a gymnast. Cameron and Patsy Walker were worried no one would be willing to coach their daughter, but Aimee learned techniques quickly, and the response from her coach was quite the opposite.

"I'll teach you gymnastics, and you can teach me sign language," her coach told her after her first lesson.

On the way home from a meet that same year, Aimee turned to her mother and announced that she wanted to be in the Olympics someday. Patsy Walker responded that the deaf Olympics are wonderful and it was a great idea.

"No, not the deaf Olympics — the hearing Olympics," Aimee emphasized.

At that time, Walker caught a glimpse of the road her daughter would travel. "She had connected what she was doing with her desires for the future and understood that anything is possible. She wasn't putting any limitations on herself, so I didn't put any limitations on her," Walker said.

By 2000, Pond's goal was in sight as she earned senior elite status, an accomplishment reached by less than 1 percent of gymnasts, and was invited to begin the Olympic trials process along with only 22 other gymnasts.

"She had a good chance at making the Olympics — she was right there with everyone else. Just goes to show you that a little tiny 8-year-old's dream wasn't so far out of reach," Walker said.

Unfortunately, Pond injured her knee just one week before the U.S. Classic, which was the first step in the Olympic trials, and was unable to compete. With the realization that her injuries would keep her from the Olympics, Pond turned her focus to competing at the collegiate level and came to BYU.

"She's a great gymnast, but gymnastics for her is the easy part. What is really impressive about her is her academics, because that is hard and she's as responsible as the best of them when it comes to being a student," BYU head coach Brad Cattermole said. "She's a pretty smart kid who really does some thinking about what to do with her life, and when she graduates from here she'll go on to do some pretty spectacular things."

Injuries have continued to hamper Pond's career, but she said recovering from so many injuries has taught her many life lessons. Once she finishes her collegiate career, she plans to coach and judge gymnastics while working with children who have disabilities.

Beyond Pond's professional aspirations are her desires to raise a family with her husband, Derek Pond, and to use her story to help others. She currently makes time in her busy schedule to speak wherever she can to encourage others to overcome their trials and help change opinions about people who have disabilities. After graduation, she hopes to expand her motivational-speaking opportunities.

"I've been so blessed. I want to help people learn to overcome their challenges through experiences that I've had, and help kids that are having challenges by showing them that they can do it," she said.

Few people understand that concept better than Pond. With two deaf ears and one blind eye, she has accomplished more than many of her peers and has even drawn comparisons to Helen Keller.

"She's wonderful, but I'm glad I'm not Helen Keller," Pond said. "I'm so lucky — I have my one eye."