A Cultural Celebration

September 29, 2011
Feature by Mallory Cage

COLUMBIA, South Carolina, September 29. EIGHT years ago, Bill Snape had what he calls a midlife crisis, others may call it fate. After separating himself from swimming for more than a decade, Snape felt the pool calling him back. He had been working in D.C. at a law firm when he found the listing for a swim coaching position at Gallaudet University. The position seemed perfect, it would allow him to be involved in the swimming world again but also keep his full-time position.

There was one detail that would have caused many people to turn away however; Gallaudet is the only university in the country that is specifically for deaf and hard of hearing students. This meant none of his athletes would actually be able to hear him when he called out workouts or cheered for them at meets.

Snape can hear and had never used sign language, but these details did not faze him at all. He applied for the position and was hired.

During his eight years at Gallaudet, Snape has had many accomplishments including being named the Coach of the Year in the North Eastern Athletic Conference after both the men’s and women’s teams took home the championship in 2010-11. His success at Gallaudet led to a chance to be the head coach of the U.S. Deaf World Championship team and he is now the Director of U.S. Deaf Swimming.

Throughout his time at Gallaudet and his experiences with the deaf world championship team, Snape would slowly learn sign language but there was one lesson he learned quickly. “Deafness by itself is not a disability,” said Snape.

It was this attitude that has propelled Snape to work on improving the United State’s National Deaf Team. The team has struggled to grow throughout the years because of a lack of funding and organization, but with the combined efforts of Snape and some of the veteran athletes, the U.S. sent one of the largest teams ever to Portugal for Worlds this past summer.

“Being a veteran deaf swimmer now, I’ve watched the U.S. deaf team grow from a small, nonexistent team to literally the world champions over the past six years! When I stood on the podium with my relay, I remembered years back when we only won one or two medals, but now here we were, winning nearly everything. That, in itself was inspiring,” said Tulane’s Kristin Ates, a veteran of the deaf swimming world.

Ates has been an active part of the deaf swimming community for most of her life. She has participated in the World Championships and the Deaflympics and was a big part of recruiting more swimmers to the team this year. After months of emails and Facebook messages, Kristin and her teammates were able to add many new members to the team and with the additions came an even greater chance for success.

“There were a large number of new swimmers on our team, which meant our team had a lot of potential to do even better than before, so it was interesting to see what would happen.”

Through word of mouth and social networks, the veteran swimmers worked to bring together the most talented team possible despite the lack of funding. While the team did not spend the year training together, Snape kept aware of their progress and knew they were on the right track before they met in Portugal.

A total of 19 athletes, 10 men and nine women, flew to Coimbra, Portugal and began competition on August 6. The meet lasted seven days, and although the team got off to a slow start, they finished off better than ever. The team won 11 gold, four silver and seven bronze medals and took the overall team trophy as well, beating out the heavily-favored Russian team.

While the fast swimming was exciting, Ates says the most the most exciting thing was just being reunited.

X