USADSF interviewed Sylvya Boyd (Littleton), who shares her Deaflympic journey with our Director of Development, Jeff Wolfe. Sylvya competed in the 1965 Deaflympics, then known as the World Games for the Deaf, in the 100m freestyle event.
JEFF WOLFE: I’ll now be interviewing a Deaflympian here in Nashville, Tennessee. So, first off, who are you and where are you from?
SYLVYA BOYD: I’m from Nashville, Tennessee. While I was growing up, I moved around a lot and went to 3 different residential schools for the Deaf, where I’ve been swimming for the majority of my life.
WOLFE: So you’re a Deaflympian; which Deaflympics were you involved in?
BOYD: I was a part of the 1965 Deaflympics in Washington, D.C. where Gallaudet University is located.
WOLFE: How did you end up in the Deaflympics after swimming for most of your life?
BOYD: For all my life, I’d always competed against hearing teams. While I moved to different states, I’d always join their swimming teams. My mission was to make it to the Olympics. That was my dream and finally when I was 14, I moved to Arizona School for the Deaf. I saw that they had a swimming pool on campus! I was so excited that I asked the PE teacher if I could swim laps for 15 minutes before the class started. I was really itching to get into the water and my PE teacher was fine with it!
I put on my swim gear under my school clothes. After class, I’d run as fast as I could across campus into the pool facility. After I got my school clothes off, I’d jump in and do laps. It felt so good for me. The PE teacher was amazed by how fast I was! Then the teacher asked the track coach who had participated in the 1961 Deaflympics in Helsinki, Finland. He asked me if he could time me while I swam laps. After he did, he told me I had an incredible time worthy of a spot in the Deaflympics.
I had no idea that we had a Deaflympics! The track coach explained that I could strive to qualify for Deaflympics instead of the Olympics. I was so excited and I was ready to get to work because the next Deaflympics was to take place the following year! I practiced and practiced in preparation for the Deaflympics, actually it was 2 years ahead of us. I was up for it then a year later, I went to California School for the Deaf, Riverside (CSDR) where they were hosting Deaflympics tryouts. I easily got first place there. I beat out all the deaf swimmers there. Hearing swimmers were more of a challenge for me, but the deaf swimmers, no real competition. Then I made it on the US Deaflympics team.
During that following year, I had a coach assigned to me so we trained together at the YMCA in Tucson, Arizona. I trained there every weekend for that whole year.
WOLFE: So many people have said that the 1965 Deaflympics is the best that they’ve ever experienced. Would you agree?
BOYD: I don’t know what they’re talking about. It was the only Deaflympics I went to.
WOLFE: I’m curious to hear more about what the experience was like for you competing in the Deaflympics?
BOYD: Okay, before I went to the Deaflympics, I got sick and it made me miss a lot of practices. I had to catch up with the missed training until I started the 3-week Deaflympic trials. I met a lot of foreigners, swimmers from France, Italy, Germany and Russia. I tried to communicate with them by gesturing and I ended up making friends. I continued to practice and then 3 days before the actual competition, I got really sick again, with bronchitis and high fever. I got some medication and tried to get healthy. On the following Monday, I was healthy and ready to go, but I’d already missed so many practices. I had no choice but to move forward with competing. After all of us swimmers lined up and got the cue, we dove in and were off to the races. I was in the lead until I arrived to the other side of the pool. I misjudged the distance between myself and the wall so I didn’t launch myself like I should have. This caused me to fall back behind the pack and I ended up losing. At the 2nd competition, I was too sick to do anything so I had to withdraw from the competition. I was replaced by someone from Connecticut who ended up winning 1st place! I could’ve beaten them all, but that’s something I will have to accept. After all I’ve been through, I have no regrets. I had an incredible experience and I got to meet new friends from countries like France along with athletes from Germany, Italy and all over. I liked meeting people, making new friends and learning international signs. I enjoyed the rich experience I had throughout those 3 weeks.
WOLFE: Thank you for your time and I’m sure that many people out there will enjoy your inspirational story!
Captioned by aslcaptions.com. The transcript has been edited for clarity.