Hunter Taylor, 22, and his deaf volleyball teammates from the United States have their sights set on Olympic gold in Samsun, Turkey—the 23rd Summer Deaflympics—which kicked off July 18, MED-EL announced.

Taylor was reportedly one of the first world-class athletes accepted to the national team roster, according to the MED-EL announcement. Born with a moderate hearing loss, by age 2 his hearing had deteriorated to the point where he was deaf in both ears. As one of the country’s first eligible pediatric patients, Taylor also became one of the first children in the United States to receive a MED-EL cochlear implant in 1998 and he still uses the same cochlear implant today, nearly 20 years later. MED-EL USA has signed on to sponsor Taylor for the 2017 International Deaflympics. However, none of the athletes are permitted to wear cochlear implants or hearing aids during competition to ensure a level playing field.

The USA Deaf Volleyball team took home a silver medal in last summer’s Pan American Games and placed 5th in the World Deaf Volleyball Championships held at Gallaudet University, a qualifying event for the Deaflympics. This year, team USA will reportedly face stiffer competition and unfamiliar teams from around the world.

“It will be different but I think I’m more ready for this tournament than I was last year because I have seen most of competition and I am getting stronger and more prepared with film and intensity in gym and in practice,” said Taylor. “I think the games will be very similar to last year’s World Championships, except this time we will play all the teams that qualified for the Deaflympics. Which means we cannot take any of the teams lightly!”

The International Committee of Sports for the Deaf (ICSD) is the governing body responsible for the organization of Deaflympics and other World Deaf Championships. Founded in 1924 and known as the CISS (Comité International des Sports des Sourds), the ICSD is now approaching the century mark of being the organization behind the building, evolving, and fortifying the tradition of inviting deaf/hard of hearing elite athletes globally to come together  to compete in their respective sports.

Currently a student at Eastern Mennonite University, Taylor has not let hearing loss stand in the way of his path to becoming an elite volleyball player. What started at age 15 as a way for the 6’ 5” Taylor to stay in stay in shape for basketball lit a competitive fire. By 17, Taylor was competing at an elite High School national level, traveling around the country for Richmond Volleyball Club. Having earned a spot on the USA National Deaf Volleyball team by age 20, Taylor is now working toward his ultimate goal of playing volleyball on a professional level.

“It’s amazing the opportunities volleyball has given me and MED-EL’s cochlear implant still continues to make a huge impact in my life,” said Taylor.

Source: MED-EL

Image: MED-EL