Sophie Post still has her first pair of hearings aids — the blue, glittery ones she got when she was 6.
The 15-year-old junior midfielder for the Murray High girls soccer team keeps them for sentimental value among the newer, better-functioning hearing aids she wears now. In a way, they represent both her exuberant personality and a condition she’s had for as long as she can remember.
“Honestly, most of my life I’ve just known I was deaf,” Post told The Salt Lake Tribune last week after her team beat Olympus High. “I can’t really remember a point where I wasn’t.”
But over the course of the last 10 years, Post has learned to not let her hearing condition define her. She turned an ailment into personal and athletic success, featuring on her high school team and several club teams. She is also part of the Olympic Development Program and has participated in several camps with the United States Deaf Women’s National Team.
“It doesn’t affect her,” said Sammie Sofonia, Post’s close friend and teammate.
It took a long time for Post to get to that point, though. She remembers when things got bad, and her father, Tom, does, too. When Post was 5, her speech began to slur and she would no longer turn around when called upon, confirming what her parents suspected — and somewhat expected.
Post was eventually diagnosed with reverse-slope hearing loss, a hereditary condition that occurs in about 50% of kids whose parents have it. Tom Post also has it, but Sophie Post’s older sister does not.
Post was informed she needed hearing aids before attending kindergarten. At the time, she didn’t want to believe she was losing her hearing.
But Post felt excited about the chance to wear her new blue hearing aids. That excitement quickly went away, however, when children at her school made fun of and bullied her for being deaf.
For a time, Post always wore her hair down because she wanted to hide her hearing aids. She said that throughout junior high, none of her friends knew she was deaf because she never talked about it.
“I just didn’t really want people to know,” Post said.
Tom Post remembered feeling nervous for his daughter. How she’d react. How others would react. Whether people would believe that she was actually deaf. Post received speech therapy and was soon able to speak normally. And while she is legally deaf, she still has some — albeit not much — ability to hear.
“Growing up deaf — especially that kind of deaf where you can talk and people never quite believe you’re deaf — is difficult,” Tom Post said. “I worried about her personality. I worried it would make her a little more bitter because she’s a very happy kid.”
Post started playing soccer around the same time she was diagnosed with her condition. Since then, she has gotten better at performing at a high level while not being able to hear well. But she still struggles, especially while running.
“It takes a lot of effort to hear people,” Post said. “So when I’m running and focusing on something else, I can’t hear if a defender is coming up behind me or if my coach is yelling something at me or if my teammate’s like, ‘Hey pass the ball’ — I can’t hear that. So I have to make sure that I always have my head up and stay aware of everything.”
In last week’s game against Olympus, the ball went out of bounds and she elected to take the throw-in. The only problem was her teammates were yelling at her not to do so, and Post didn’t hear them.
Over the years, Post and her teammates have developed nonverbal cues in order to communicate on the field. Sofonia said players have to “scream louder” to make sure she hears. Aly Starbuck, another teammate and close friend, said she spells words with the American Sign Language alphabet.
Murray High coach Brady Smith, who has coached the girls soccer team there for seven years, said he has to to make sure he makes eye contact with Post when giving instructions, and that she is in a position where she can read his lips. Tom Post said lip-reading is his daughter’s primary method of understanding what someone says.
“There’s times that, of course, in a coaching profession, you’re yelling at somebody from 30, 40, 50 feet away,” Smith said. “Those are just times I have to remind myself that, hey, this is a player that needs to be communicated with differently.”
Post’s hearing condition isn’t the only hurdle she’s had to jump over in her soccer career. In the past two years, she’s suffered three major injures to her lower body, the most recent of which was a broken left tibia that kept her out four months. She just recently is starting to play without pain and is getting back into game shape.
Aside from soccer, Post likes to paint, hike, longboard and listen to indie music. Her gregarious demeanor is immediately noticeable, and it would be nearly impossible to tell she had a hearing condition without knowing it beforehand.
And that’s the current space in which Post lives. Smith called her "one of the premier players in the state.” Starbuck describes her as “just a good person.” Post said she has recently given more thought to raising awareness about her condition.
Post said with the support of her father and her speech therapist, she was able to get past the initial difficulty of her condition. Now that she’s a teenager, she wears her hearing aids with pride.
“Now as I’ve gotten older,” Post said, “I’ve just kind of accepted it and it’s OK that I’m deaf.”