March 26--Two pieces of silicon with a microphone and an amplifier serve as the sole mediator between Calli Bartholomew's world and everything on the outside.
The hearing-impaired College of Coastal Georgia outfielder feels more comfortable without her hearing aids. If she's around someone and doesn't have them in, then she trusts you and feels like she can be herself.
She knows she's different, but she wouldn't call her condition a disability. A better word would be "motivation." She had the word "believe" tattooed on her right shoulder. That's her word. That's her advice for anyone trying to accomplish anything.
Bartholomew transferred to Coastal Georgia last summer after growing up in Dixon, Ill., and playing junior college softball at Sauk Valley Community College in her hometown.
When Calli was 2 years old, a doctor told her parents, Matt Bartholomew and Tracy Bartholomew-Egan, she would never be able to speak.
That diagnosis, however, fell on deaf ears. Tracy didn't listen and got a second opinion.
Calli's grandmother made the discovery that Calli might be hearing impaired. She took a pot and a pan and clanged them together over Calli's head. Her granddaughter made no reaction.
"She wasn't speaking any words except ones that were one syllable like 'da' and 'ba,'" Tracy said. "The first doctor said that she was deaf and that she would never speak. When I heard that diagnosis, I took her to a different doctor. I don't know if it was because I was naive or headstrong, but I thought, 'That's not going to be her life.'"
The second doctor suggested Calli try hearing aids, and Tracy said everything about Calli changed after that.
"She was a wild child," she said. "She would never sit still or let you read a book. She wasn't interested in TV. When she got hearing aids, you could tell that she was taking in so much information for the first time in her life. It was an incredible time."
Since then, Calli Bartholomew doesn't listen when told she can't do something. She went to school to develop her speech through a class designed for the hearing impaired, then transitioned to mainstream schooling by first grade. She used sign language to communicate and required an interpreter to sign to her everything her teacher said. She was always required to have a translator, but stopped using sign language outside of class by the fourth grade, fully capable of speaking.
If her hearing was a disadvantage in school, it only made her work harder to keep up with her peers. She graduated high school without missing or be held back a year.
She didn't want to be excluded from sports, either, although there were challenges.
In one very key high school softball game, Bartholomew had to pitch without her hearing aids due to a heavy rain. When the other team took notice she was hearing impaired, they seized the advantage, stealing bases every time it got a runner on base. She had no idea.
On the track team, she would always get a late start. She couldn't hear the gun. Playing libero on the volleyball team was the most difficult, she said. Everything happens quickly, and she couldn't always communicate with her teammates.
"Sometimes I would like (to hear) just to understand everything people are saying," Bartholomew said.
But no one ever treated her like she was anything less than normal, she said, and she stuck with softball.
In her first year as a Mariner, Bartholomew is sporting a .367 batting average with 18 hits and eight runs batted in in 49 at-bats. She also leads all Mariners with at least 40 at-bats with an on-base percentage of .516, including 11 walks.
"She's a great all-around player," Coastal Georgia head coach Mike Minick said. "The main thing with her is, how good her attitude is.
"She's always encouraging her teammates when they're down. She pumps them up and keeps them pumped up."
Bartholomew admits she's probably the loudest person in the Coastal Georgia dugout, the most talkative and the biggest motivator.
Teammate Savannah Cook, Bartholomew's roommate, said she's never seen Bartholomew get upset during a game. While other players exert their frustrations after striking out, Bartholomew will jog back to the dugout as if nothing happened.
Bartholomew's hearing aids aren't covered by insurance, and her family paid $5,000 for her latest set, Tracy said. Bartholomew's dog chewed up the last pair.
Bartholomew said most people are surprised to learn she's hearing impaired, and some of her friends even forget she is because of how well she speaks.
It's an easy mistake that Jim Egan, her stepfather, made the first time he met her. Egan had just started dating Tracy, who told him she had a daughter who was hearing impaired. Not knowing the difference between hearing impaired and deaf, he spent weeks on his own learning sign language before he met Bartholomew. When he finally did, he began signing to her.
"Hi Calli, my name is Jim," he signed. "How are you?"
"Why is he signing to me?" she asked Tracy.
"She can speak?" Jim asked.
"Yeah, she's hearing impaired, not deaf."
Bartholomew loves hearing the voices of her friends and family. She listens to music, and her favorite sounds come from the saxophone.
"I'm determined to have one at my wedding," she said.
Taking out the hearing aids can be an avenue of escape from the world, but she never takes for granted her limited ability to hear, which ultimately prevented her from a life of silence.
"I probably wouldn't be the same person I am today if I couldn't speak," she said. "Sometimes people tell me when they first meet me, that I'm so outgoing and sociable. I wouldn't be like that. I wouldn't be very positive about myself."
-- Sports Reporter Nathan Deen writes about local sports. Contact him at [email protected], on Facebook or at 265-8320, ext. 349.
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