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Amy Donaldson: Millard High girl inspires by playing in silence

Published: Sunday, June 10 2012 11:07 p.m. MDT

If you measure athletic accomplishments by wins and awards, then Millard High senior Candice Chatland hasn't accomplished much.

But if you measure her efforts by looking at the obstacles she's overcome just to stand on the field and not be a liability to her teammates, then her achievement is the kind any sports fan would celebrate.

She may look like any other athlete on the volleyball court or track.

But Chatland can't hear the coaches' instructions or her teammates' encouragement.

She can't hear the starting whistle or the final buzzer.

She can't hear the crack of the bat or the roar of the crowd.

Totally deaf since birth, Chatland could have settled for watching from the sidelines. It would certainly have been easier.

But from the time she was little, she only wanted to do what her parents and siblings had done. She wanted to be part of the community and her school.

Because she was missing both of her auditory nerves, there was nothing doctors or hearing aids could do for her.

Her world would remain silent.

But she would not remain on the sideline.

"She wouldn't let her differences get her down," her mother Wendy Chatland wrote in an essay she gave to the Utah High School Activities Association during her daughter's final high school season as a track athlete. "When Candice played Junior Jazz basketball, she would get the ball and dribble down the court — and keep dribbling even after the whistle was blown."

What might embarrass or discourage others, only fueled Chatland to work hard, to find a way and to teach others how to embrace her uniqueness. She relied on her teammates, an interpreter or her mom to help her understand instruction, learn plays and even realize when to start and stop.

"Candice has courageously coped with the aspects of being deaf such as being left out of conversations, not being able to hear and enjoy music and even being told she couldn't play certain positions in sports due to her disability," said Wendy. "Candice's attitude is what makes her so special and extraordinary."

Millard High principal Dennis Alldredge said one can't help but be inspired by Chatland and her commitment to having the same experiences her friends have.

"Sports is big in this town," he said. "You have to admire her initiative and drive not to quit. It's a place where she can be with her family, the community; it's a place where she can be with her friends."

It was a way for her to be like anybody else.

Chatland showed other student athletes — and their parents — that obstacles can be overcome, that normal is what you make it.

"It's a real inspiration," Alldredge said. "In particular for a lot of kids who complain aobut this bump or that bruise, and we're saying check out what this little girl has overcome."

She's had a number of illnesses, including a bout with intussusceptions, which nearly killed her when she was seven months old. Surgeon's had to remove and then untangle her intestines and then put them back.

Her determination was obvious to her parents from the moment she was born, when she aspirated meconium and developed pneumonia. Instead of spending the first two weeks of her life in her mother's arms, she battled illness in an intensive care unit.

Chatland's experience hasn't always been smooth, and people have not always been understanding. But her teammates, coaches and family have helped her find ways to do everything she's wanted.

At a 400-meter race in Richfield recently, a track volunteer set the flashing light that alerts her to a false start up in the wrong place. So when officials signaled that there had been a false start, she kept running. She ran 200 yards before she realized no one was running with her. That's when an opposing team's coach stepped onto the track to stop her.

Embarrassed and tired, she laughed with her teammates and returned to the blocks to start the race again. She didn't earn a personal record that day, but she earned the respect of everyone who watched the competition.

She plans to continue her education and while she's certain to run into barriers, she's proven to be the epitome of the adage, "Where there is a will, there is a way."

It isn't a matter of whether or not she will continue to play sports or go to college, but where she will do both.

"It's been an eye opener," said Alldredge. "It's been quite an inspiration."

Email: adonaldson@desnews.com

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