From Oddity to Odyssey: Why I’m Facing my Fears and Traveling to Peru

For my whole life, I’ve had moderate bilateral hearing loss. This means I wear two hearing aids –which are new purple Oticon hearing aids and they’re pretty cute. When I take them out, most or all surrounding noises are lost or sound extremely distant, but I can mostly hear people if they look at me and talk clearly. I’ve also been mainstreamed my whole life, with a 504, and until 9th grade I only knew a bunch of old people with hearing aids and two other young people with hearing aids or who were deaf that I really never talked to.

IMG_7624Then I signed up for Explore the Outdoors with Clarke Schools and met some of my best friends, who were deaf, and it absolutely changed the way I thought about my hearing loss and myself — knowing I wasn’t some sort of oddity. In the winter of 2014 I decided to go on a No Barriers trip to the Grand Canyon with a group of half hearing people and half hearing-impaired people of all sorts. When I got chosen to be a part of the team, I would not shut up about it. The picture of me in the river with the neon blue bucket hat on sums up the trip to the Grand Canyon pretty well: I was ecstatic and I was challenging myself. The trip to the Grand Canyon was more than a get together for deaf teenagers — it pushed our mental and physical barriers. I had never hiked farther than a hill and was only sort of in shape, but I hiked the Bright Angel trail in the middle of the summer heat and for the whole glorious 9 miles of downward slopes. When we got to our river guides, I was exhausted but absolutely pumped because that was only the beginning of our trip and I had already proved I could push my barriers down.

So naturally when I heard that Kaitlyn Millen was planning on taking a group of deaf teenagers to Peru, I had to put aside my fears (foreign country? new language? sloths???) and remind myself of the thrill of forgetting your predispositions and disability and pushing your spirit and body to the limit. We have been having monthly conference calls as a part of the preparatory phase, so I finally got to meet some of the people I’m going on this trip with and it’s nice to know that getting to know people when I’m already in a foreign country won’t be a problem. It’s also been great to learn about the environment, as well as incredible people like Mandy Harvey and Erik Weihenmayer. They embody the No Barriers philosophy, which has really helped me feel like I can take on anything in my life here at home, as well as in Peru.