Born with hearing loss, FGCU volleyball’s Alexandra Zakutney inspires on and off the court – NBC2 News

Alexandra Zakutney may have a lot in common with her FGCU volleyball teammates — like being great at volleyball, of course! But there’s one big thing that sets her apart from all of the other Eagles: she was born with hearing loss.

“I was like two years old, and I was watching TV,” said Zakutney. “But I was standing this close to the TV, and I would always like to turn up the volume, and my eyesight is great. So my parents thought something was weird about it. And I guess when I was first born, they didn’t run any tests to see if I had any hearing impairment. So when they went back, I found out I had a severe moderate to severe hearing loss. And that’s how I kind of started wearing hearing aids from then on.”

Zakutney’s grandparents on her dad’s side are both deaf. Her grandpa lost his hearing after having meningitis. But Zakutney’s hearing loss is a recessive gene. Her grandma was born deaf.

“It skipped my dad’s generation,” she added. “And then, out of the eight cousins we had, I was diagnosed with a hearing impairment when I was young.”

Despite the challenges she endured, Zakutney pursued several competitive sports growing up. She was a figure skater for years and also loved volleyball. Her parents actually met playing it. In high school, she started to play club volleyball and on her school’s team before being recruited to play at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay.

Zakutney said growing up, she was always nervous to tell people about her hearing loss. Starting a new team or a new grade meant re-telling her story, and she says she was afraid of being judged.

“It’s hard to tell people, you never know how they’re going to react,” said Zakutney. “It’s something you’re scared to mention to people because you don’t want it to be a turn-off or you don’t want anybody to feel bad, but no one should… like, why should I feel bad about who I am in the hearing impairment I have? Because that makes me unique. And you know, as I’ve gotten older, I think I’ve matured and become more accepting of my hearing loss and proud of it.”

Zakutney transferred to Florida Gulf Coast for her final year of college and was straight up to the coaches and team about her impairment.

“Oh my gosh, I remember when I first got recruited here,” she said. “I told [Matt Botsford], ‘By the way, I have a hearing impairment, like if I ever can’t hear you, I’m not ignoring you.’ But honestly, people are more interested about knowing; they asked me questions about my hearing, they are genuinely curious. I think they’ve just done a really good job at welcoming me and just making me feel just as valued as anybody else.”

Living with hearing loss her entire life, she’s had to incorporate a lot of body language into communication, especially when playing volleyball.

“I’m pretty loud, so usually it’s not too hard,” laughed FGCU head volleyball coach Matt Botsford. “But I do think you have to have an awareness of if you’re making eye contact with her. Typically if her back is to me and she’s moving away and I’m saying her name, I realized that she’s not going to be hearing that.”

“I know there are some times we would do drills where you would have to yell something like a color or yell some specific thing, and they’d be standing behind me, and I wouldn’t be able to hear anything,” Zakutney added. “And I’d have to go up to my coaches and be like, ‘Actually, I don’t know what you’re saying. So we can’t do that drill.’ So there have been a few modifications we needed to make because of my hearing, which always kind of makes you feel guilty. But then, you got to do what you got to do.”

Over time, Zakutney has learned how to overcome the fear of people noticing her hearing aids and is proud of who she was born to be. She now sees just how much of an inspiration she really is.

“Anytime you talk to Alex about helping somebody else, it’s going to resonate,” said Botsford. “And so the idea that maybe her story can resonate with somebody else and empower somebody else, that’s a big deal to her.”

“I don’t think anybody should be nervous,” said Zakutney. “If you’re diagnosed with any type of disability or impairment, whatever it is, it makes you unique and who you are, and people are really lucky to have that. The fact that you’re able to show that and broadcast it in your personality is incredible and especially in sports. We need more people like that in sports. Just because you have an impairment doesn’t mean you can’t play Division I volleyball, go play on the National Team, even do a theater club, whatever you want to do, sing, I don’t know! You really shouldn’t let that limit you because it’s really special… I wish someone would have told me that when I was younger.”

FGCU volleyball continues its historic season as the Eagles host the ASUN tournament starting on Thursday, Nov. 16.

Source: Born with hearing loss, FGCU volleyball’s Alexandra Zakutney inspires on and off the court – NBC2 News