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Interview with Jacob: Riding a Bike Across the Country

February 11th, 2013 by | Tags: , , , , , | 7 Comments »

Jacob is a cochlear implant recipient who is riding a bike across the country and will be stopping at all 30 Major League Baseball stadiums to fundraise money for those who cannot afford cochlear implants.  I interviewed Jacob to learn more about his hearing loss background and his fundraising initiative to help fund cochlear implants.

PHOTO CREDIT: Jacob's Ride

PHOTO CREDIT: Jacob’s Ride

When was your deafness first diagnosed and how did your parents first learn about it?

Well, I was a first born child, so my parents were really concerned about everything. When I was close to the age of two, my mother thought that my speech was slow to develop. Even though I was definitely “hearing”, they had a hearing test performed, and they found that I was missing the highest frequencies. The hearing loss was pretty miniscule, but something to definitely monitor. So, I think every three months or so, I had more hearing tests. In the middle of kindergarten, I got my first set of hearing aids.

As you can imagine, my parents tried to do everything they could to find out why I was losing my hearing and how it could be stopped. The cause was never found. I probably went to more than 200 appointments to get to the bottom of it.

 

How did you and your parents learn about cochlear implant and why did you choose to pursue cochlear implantation?

Now, this one I don’t really know. I was losing my hearing so fast through 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th grade, that I because pretty depressed about it. I was still a child and had a lot of fun, but if I had to think about it, or if I was asked about it, I would become extremely withdrawn. I didn’t know what my future would really be. In my 8 years of life, I had wanted to be a carpenter, a baseball player,  or a fireman. Then, I had to take sign language classes with my mother and brother, and I was told that I might have to communicate this way “soon.” I know that when I first heard about the cochlear implant, I was sold. It was the only thing that could work in my mind. It was either the cochlear implant, or I would not be myself. I literally thought that way at 9 years old.

My dad once said that cochlear implants used to be not good. So, I believe that my parents had always known about implants, even when I was first getting hearing aids.  It’s just that it never seemed like something that could work. They were big and bulky and the success rates were low. I believe that I was told about the implant after my dad had kind of changed his mind a little bit. The computers were just getting so much smaller.

I remember when my dad told me about it, I just knew I had to have it. I remember walking up the street the next day with my best friend, Michael, and I told him all about it. Imagine a 9 year old, who had only heard about implants the night before, explaining them to an 8 year old. It’s kind of funny. I remember Michael kicking some leaves and asking me if when I get the implant, “you’ll be able to hear the leaves?” I said “yeah.” and I remember him saying “nu-uh, no way. They can’t do that stuff. A robot in your head? You’re lying.”  Because we were on the way to my house, he said “I’m gonna ask your mom.” So after my mom explained it to Michael, he just exploded “YOU’RE GOING TO HEAR AGAIN!” and he went through all of the things that wouldn’t make me different anymore. It was exhilarating.

 

What influenced your parents’ decision to teach you listening and spoken language? 

Nothing. I was born with normal hearing, I just lost it progressively. We never knew how long the hearing loss would continue, and so we always did listening and spoken language.  However, because the public school system said I sounded funny, I got some free speech therapy from the government.  Also, by the time I was in 3rd grade, I was taking sign language classes. We were looking at everything. My dad looked into the School for the Deaf in Frederick, MD. We could have moved there.

Having been born hearing and going through the ages of 2 to 6 with most of my hearing is the reason I’m so “normal” today, even though I’m not normal at all. I’m really normal for a deaf guy. Near the end of high school, and going into my college life, I really tried to make my deafness and my cochlear implant a “non-issue” and I tried to actually not ever talk about it unless asked. I never introduced myself as someone with a hearing problem or anything. But now I’m 23, and in a real working environment. I’ve learned it’s best to just get that stuff out of the way first by telling people I am deaf and have a CI, and saying to them, “I should be fine understanding you, I’ll let you know if I’m missing anything.” Or I might even say to someone I just met, “Nice to meet you. Look, I’m deaf and I have a cochlear implant, and this is a really bad environment for me, I’m going to have a hard time understanding anything you say.”

 

How has your cochlear implant made a difference in your life?

Beatles. FREDDIE MERCURY’S VOICE. Music. Hearing emotional undertones in someone’s voice. Hearing approaching cars behind me. Plus the obvious examples of hearing my loved ones (awww) and baseball on the radio (spring training games from Florida coming in about a week yes!). I guess what the implant really did for me, other than allowing me to hear, is it let me go to my public high school instead of a deaf school. I had some struggles that I believe that it came from trying to be “normal” or “cool” a lot, when I should have embraced what makes me who I am. But I’ll tell you what, Annapolis High was the best place to learn those lessons. I know a lot of my former classmates, and we’ve gotten quite a few donations from members of my class!

 

How and when did you first become interested in baseball and bike riding?

I’ve only been cycling for about 2 years, but it’s become my favorite past-time. I bike to work every day. There are so many times at 6:45 in the morning, right as I make my turn to my job, you know, after the ride, it really woke me up, and I just wish I could just ride past my job and down Rt. 2 South.

And I’m a huge baseball fan. I mean…there are a lot of big baseball fans out there, and we all love baseball in our own way. I love listening to the games on the radio.  The Orioles’ guy Joe Angel is a treasure. He really makes me laugh. For a long time, Opening Day was considered the best day of the year, but that was BEFORE the Orioles made it to the playoffs for the first time in 15 years! I loved them and listened to the games even when they were pretty bad, and this year gave me about 10 different “best moments.”

I share my passion for baseball a lot with my younger brother, Noah, who is 22. We share our love through scorekeeping the games we attend. He’s been in LA for going on 4 years now, and when the Orioles go to Anaheim, he will go to the Angels game and send me the ticket and scorecard for safe keeping. He buys mlb.audio and so, he listens to Joe Angel too, on his computer. He saves about 15 dollars a month by listening to the radio with me (we text during every game) instead of watching the live television feed.

To make a LOONG story short (it involved a promise I made in July when I was a “hater” but Noah insisted the Orioles were “for real”) , I got playoff tickets, and I flew my brother into Baltimore on the day of the game.  We beat the Yankees in the most electric atmosphere we’ve ever experienced, and we were both just about to died in joy. Noah, on two separate occasions, just hugged me and we almost cried at the beauty of it all. We beat the Yankees! In the playoffs. We loved them so much anyway when they weren’t even good!

Noah went back to LA, and I continued to work my job at Whole Foods. But before October was over, I knew that I had to do something. I wasn’t going to school for the first time since I was baby, I was 23 and had moved back in with my parents for about a year. I was kind of stuck.  I made enough money to live on my own, but my job was in Annapolis, and housing was expensive, and if I moved out to go somewhere cheaper, it would move me further from my job. And there were 5 months to go until we got some Orioles spring training games on the radio!

 

What inspired you to raise funds for people who can’t afford cochlear implants?

So that’s, in a nutshell, why this ride is happening. I knew that if this ride was going to be pulled off, it would have to be for a great cause that I believed in and could get others to believe in too. My father always considered cochlear implant a “miracle” and he really delights in talking about everything we’ve went through. I feel like anyone who had about 75% of their hearing during the key language-learning window between the ages of 1-6, and then rapidly lost their hearing from ages 6-10, would benefit just as I did from an implant. My brain had already learned how to hear. Not perfectly, but it did. I do not have the clearest speech, but most people are pretty impressed with it being great “for a deaf person.”

They implant babies now. The implants are so much better than what I have. I’m actually considering my first real “upgrade,” to Harmony by Advanced Bionics. Right now I still have Clarion, from 1999.

I know my dad spent over 600,000 dollars out of pocket to get me the cochlear implant. The modest estimations for the cochlear implant is 50 to 100 thousand dollars. That doesn’t include the diagnosis, the specialist appointments, or in the case of my dad, an all-out effort to find the cause of my hearing loss as it was happening – the cause was never found.

There are so many children who can benefit from an implant. There’s no way to make people “normal again” , and even for me, I have challenges that are probably linked to my deafness and my childhood. But we’re talking about giving people the ability to hear the Beatles. Or hear a baseball game on the radio. It can really get me emotional. Being able to hear again just adds so much to life. It can be hard to try to “adjust” , it’s hard to try to be “normal” when you can’t understand things in certain situations. But you can hear!

 

Can you share the details about how you’re going to take the bike journey to visit baseball stadiums and raise money?

This ride is a vehicle for potentially giving me the most fun I’ve ever had. I get to ride my bike all day, I get to see all the stadiums, and it will be so great. But the trade off is that I don’t get an unscheduled rest day when I’m tired.  It’s going to rain probably more than a few times, and with the money coming in, you don’t want to disappoint anybody by not completing what you said you’d do. Oh, and the ride is really long! I did 3,700 miles in 2012 and maybe 2,000 in 2011, and now I’m doing 10,500 miles in 6 months! Furthermore, I have to start thinking about my image a little bit, which will last longer than the ride will.

7 Comments

Alex

February 11, 2013 at 11:19 pm

Did he give a tentative schedule for his stops in FL?

February 13, 2013 at 9:53 am

Hi,
I am the Chair for Rotarians for Hearing RAG (Rotarian Action Group) which represents Rotarians who are passionate about helping the hearing impaired .
Rotarians for Hearing RAG would love to introduce Jacob to Rotary Clubs around the USA where he will be biking to help raise money for cochlear implants. Please have Jacob contact me, Ellen at ekhaggerty@aol.com.

Paul Corley

February 18, 2013 at 8:07 pm

Seriously get a Facebook Page for people to follow you on and promote your/our cause. I follow a few other people doing cross the country events and the awerness raised on FB is amazing. When in ATL I would be honored to log some miles with you and help restock your supplies.

Catherine Mellor

February 18, 2013 at 8:50 pm

Such an amazing story and I love what you are doing. Good luck. Give your father my regards! He sounds like a wonderful man!

Marianne Sims

February 18, 2013 at 11:27 pm

I found his website: http://www.jacobsride.com/

Catherine Mellor

February 18, 2013 at 11:53 pm

Please do get a FaceBook page. The followup comments to your post went to my spambox!

April 26, 2013 at 9:06 pm