Home > Sports > Tennis helps hearing-impaired athlete carve identity

Tennis helps hearing-impaired athlete carve identity

April 23, 2007


“He’s been the easiest kid on this team to work with,” Myers Park coach Ed Flynn said about Graydon Dunn (above). “ Whatever you ask of him, he’s willing to give.”


Graydon Dunn can whip a topspin forehand or blast a two-handed backhand with equal authority. He moves gracefully around the tennis court and shows discipline with his shot-making — the same sort of discipline that will earn him an Eagle Scout rank in May.

Graydon is a 17-year-old junior at Myers Park High who likes to wear his baseball cap backward and crank up the Dave Matthews Band really loud in his car.

Sounds like a typical slouchy, overachieving teenager, doesn’t he?

But sounds can be deceiving.

Graydon — diagnosed with severe to profound hearing loss at age 2 and coping with that hearing impairment ever since — knows that well.

Other high-school tennis players in Charlotte are more skilled than Graydon, who has started at No. 6 for Myers Park for the past three seasons and has won about three-quarters of his matches in 2007. Other students are more gifted academically. Other Boy Scouts have earned merit badges faster.

Few have worked harder, though, than Graydon.

“He’s been the easiest kid on this team to work with,” Myers Park tennis coach Ed Flynn said. “Whatever you ask of him, he’s willing to give.”

Graydon talks in a slow monotone. You can understand his words, but they do sound different. You can also understand why he’s shy, and why his parents were so pleasantly surprised when he told them recently that he had a date for the high school prom.

Graydon was born eight weeks prematurely. He weighed 3 pounds. That low birth weight was partly because Graydon had a twin. The twin, who was stillborn, weighed 6 pounds.

His development was slower than average, but Graydon’s parents didn’t notice his hearing loss for a couple of years because as a toddler he learned to lip-read without anyone knowing. By age 2, though, Richard and Linda Dunn were worried enough to take their son to a hearing specialist.

When the diagnosis came: “It was one of those moments that makes you want to either cry or throw up,” Linda Dunn said.

Graydon got hearing aids. He eventually learned cued speech, a visual way of speaking that combines lip reading with hand cues. (It’s different from American Sign Language.) His parents held him back in the second grade but have always mainstreamed him in school. At Myers Park, Graydon has a translator who accompanies him to all classes and “cues” all the sounds in the classroom.

Tennis became his outlet. Graydon was naturally shy, in part because it was so hard to follow multi-person conversations. In an individual sport like tennis, there wasn’t much need to speak.

“With my hearing aids, I could not understand what was going on in a conversation because of the static I was hearing,” Graydon said. “I had to say, `What did you say?’ or `I’m sorry, can you say that again?’ And others would say `Never mind’ or laugh as if it was a joke.”

Graydon logged hundreds of hours in speech therapy, in individual tutoring to help his reading comprehension and on the tennis court.

“He’ll come home from playing tennis, and someone will call him, and he’s gone again an hour later to play some more,” his mother said.

Although just 5-8 and 125 pounds, Graydon plays a bigger game. Unlike many high school players, he can hit a crisp volley and is a good doubles player, too.

Graydon had a breakthrough in November 2005, when he received a cochlear implant in his right ear. Suddenly, sounds weren’t just amplified. They were clarified.

“I heard birds chirping for the first time,” Graydon said, “and I said, `Whoa! I’ve never heard that! What is it?’ ”

He suddenly could hear the drip of water from a faucet. The rustle of leaves. His doubles partner’s words of encouragement. His hearing didn’t turn perfect, but the device helped.

The cochlear implant made him want to talk more, too. So Graydon became one of the few kids in American history to actually talk more to his parents as a teenager than as a 10-year-old. “You can have a conversation with him now,” his father said, “and before he wouldn’t or couldn’t give you much more than one-word answers.”

We forget sometimes what a great thing sports can be for kids. Tennis has helped give Graydon an identity. On the Myers Park tennis team, Graydon still gets teased. But it’s good-natured. And it’s about tennis, not about his hearing impairment.

“The guys give him grief just like they do anyone else,” Flynn said. “And I think he likes that.”

IN MY OPINION Scott Fowler



Scott Fowler: 704-358-5140; sfowler@charlotteobserver.com.


Categories: Sports
  1. anonymous
    April 24, 2007 at 7:44 am

    Can you use Deaf instead of hearing impaird or hearing loss? It seems that you are afraid to type Deaf on your post. How come??

  2. Dolphingurl
    April 24, 2007 at 8:15 am

    Anonymous, why don’t you check the link that they posted?


    The headline in the newspaper says the exact words what they posted here.

  3. April 24, 2007 at 1:56 pm

    Hi Anonymous, I would love to say that but it’s not my word which it was written on the article. So the story is not mine. In my own writing, I can write “Deaf” and “deaf” if I want. I know what you mean because I feel the same thing.

  1. No trackbacks yet.
Comments are closed.