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Deafness doesn't sideline cheerleader

By Ashley Franscell

Daily Herald

Published: Saturday, Sept. 10 2011 10:47 p.m. MDT

Taryn Ramos cheers with the Payson HIgh School cheerleading squad during a football scrimmage. Ramos was diagnosed with profound hearing loss at 11 months old.

Associated Press

PROVO — Sounds ricochet off the field at a Friday night football game.

The high school marching band blasts the school fight song. The fans yell. Helmets crack. The announcers' voices echo across metal bleachers.

To anyone else, those might be noisy nuances, but for Taryn Ramos they are music to her ears.

As a baby, there weren't many signs that Ramos couldn't hear. For the first year, most children — hearing or not — develop at the same rate. Jennifer Ramos, Taryn's mother, began to notice that when she walked into Taryn's room, she didn't respond to her entering the room. Something seemed different. Her older daughter would get excited at the sound of her footsteps in the room. Curious, Jennifer went to the kitchen one day and grabbed a pot and wooden spoon. She entered Taryn's nursery, banging loudly. Taryn didn't respond.

Frightened, she took her to the hospital. After several different tests, she was diagnosed with profound hearing loss.

She was fitted with hearing aids and her parents started teaching her sign language. Jennifer and her husband Robert were determined to keep her life as normal as possible.

"I think it's really important for kids with disabilities, who are usually sent to different schools, that they be with their peers," Jennifer said. "So they have people looking out for them and so people learn not to be afraid of them."

Taryn was enrolled in both a deaf school and a regular school for preschool.

She progressed well. She could talk well and she learned to read lips. In kindergarten she stopped going to the deaf school. Taryn had an aide who followed her through second grade to help interpret the lessons.

"I'm happy she decided to put me through regular school," said Taryn, who lives in Santaquin. "Because I can do things like other kids."

At the age of 8, she underwent surgery for a cochlear implant.

A cochlear implant processes sound into a mini computer and is converted into digital information, which is transmitted through the inner ear. The electrodes stimulate the auditory nerve, sending sound information to the brain.

Taryn's implant did not restore her hearing, but it gave her a greater understanding of the environmental sounds and speech.

Getting the implant wasn't as easy or as quick as Taryn had hoped. Doctors like to turn on the implant slowly to let the ear heal after the surgery and to let the patient adjust to the new sound.

"I was scared," she said. "I didn't want to turn it on because I didn't know what it would sound like."

The hiss of a soda machine was one of the first sounds she heard.

"It hurt!" she said. "I'd never heard that before."

But it was worth it.

Once doctors were able to turn it up, Taryn could hear a rag wipe across the counter.

"There are sounds all around us that we don't even realize," Jennifer said.

As a teenager, her mother jokes that she turns off her implant on purpose. When she does, it means the early-morning cartoons of her two younger brothers doesn't wake her up on a Saturday morning.

But that's what teenagers do, and more than anything, Taryn just wants to be normal.

Last spring she tried out for the Payson High School cheerleading squad, following in her older sister's footsteps.

"I wanted to prove to myself that I can do a lot of things that people didn't think I could do," Taryn said.

After two call backs, she made the team. Both Taryn and her mother were surprised — and overjoyed.

"I wasn't sure how this was going to go," Jennifer said. "I didn't tell the coach because I didn't want her to make it because she was impaired. But, I didn't want her to not make it because she was hearing impaired. I didn't want her to be out there if she didn't deserve it."

Taryn has tried different sports — basketball, tennis, golf, dance and track — but cheerleading is the hardest.

Her petite frame lends itself well as a flyer, or a stunt girl. Her Payson teammates have been very helpful and they came up with different signals — a tap on the ankle or a squeeze of the toe — to tell her which stunt she's supposed to do. They also wrote down all the cheers for her, so she could read them rather than relying on her hearing. And they've moved her into a spot on the line so she's behind the captain, making it easier to hear the calls.

Her sister Chelsey has also helped her with the cheers. But even more important to Taryn, she taught her how to tuck the transmitter into her ponytail before the games. She wants no special attention.

"Nothing holds her back," said Payson High School cheerleading coach Keelie Snow. "She's made her disability into something positive."

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