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Hearing loss can’t stop student-athlete

By : David O'Brian

Shot putter Joanel Lopez has already had an impressive career as the runner-up in the shot put in the 2008 and 2009 America East Outdoor Championships and a member of the 2007-08 America East Academic Honor Roll.

This year, he broke the school shot put record three times and was named the America East Men’s Field Athlete of the Week once.

Deaf since he was 2, Lopez has always been determined to succeed.

“It was difficult sometimes. I tried to play basketball, but because I was deaf, people didn’t think I could play well,” he said. “I wanted to show them that I could play as well as them.”

Lopez knew he could succeed.

“I still have four senses and refuse to use that an excuse to not do my best,” he said.

He found strength from his mother, Rose Tertilus, a Haitian immigrant who raised him alone.

“We’re very close,” he said. “It’s been just the two of us. She works a lot and inspires me. We both really like to work.”

Lopez attended Lexington School for the Deaf in Flushing, N.Y. His basketball coach there made a big impact on him.

“I learned a lot from him about discipline,” Lopez said. “He encouraged a focus on school. He said that if you keep your school work up, then we have a better team because everyone is there.”

Lopez transferred to Binghamton in 2007 from Howard University, where he competed in track and field in the shot put.

“I studied books and forums on the Internet (as well as) DVDs to learn shot put techniques,” he said. “I’ve learned the most from videos of old-time throwers such as Parry O’Brien, Al Feuerbach, Randy Matson, Michael Carter and especially Ulf Timmermann from East Germany.”

Binghamton’s head track and field coach, Mike Thompson, knew Lopez’s deafness would be challenging, but worked to ensure Lopez had support.

“It’s probably easier working with Joanel than others,” Thompson said. “He’s very coachable and serious about what he’s doing.”

Wally Yelverton, assistant track coach, learned sign language to communicate with Lopez. “Joanel picks things up faster than most people because he’s used to having to watch and learn,” Yelverton said. “He really has to pay attention.”

Patricia Maslar, a professional interpreter for the deaf, accompanied Lopez to all of his classes.

“It’s refreshing to work with such a dedicated student,” she said. “He’s very concerned about his academics.”

“Joanel is focused, works hard and asks great questions,” said his adviser, Peter Knuepfer, director of environmental studies. “I’m impressed with how well he engages and communicates with everyone — and if you need someone to give you a smile, he’s the guy.”

Lopez has also inspired his teammates. “(The track team) is very large, but there’s a lot of togetherness,” he said. “My teammates have made a good effort to reach out to me and learn sign language.”

“Joanel is one of the most friendly and nicest people I’ve ever met,” senior pole vaulter Carly Gross said. “He’s one of the biggest fans of the team.”

His impact has been especially profound on fellow throwers.

“He’ll help out whenever you need it,” junior Margaret Tinker said. “I’ve learned some sign language. He’s signed to me ways I can improve and I’ve signed to him how he can improve.”

After graduation, Lopez hopes to find a job in biology or environmental science and apply to graduate school. “I want to continue to be an amateur thrower, too, and compete at the 21st Deaflympics.

“And I hope to be remembered as a hard-working student and athlete,” he said. “Just because someone is deaf doesn’t mean they can’t work hard.”

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Last Updated: 10/14/08