young adult flipping a tire
Deaf & HH Adults

Alex Thompson: What Weightlifting Has Taught Me

I was born just 45 minutes outside of Chicago and I was born hearing, but due to an ear infection at around age seven, I began to lose my ability to hear. I have a deaf family, my mom and dad both have hearing loss and my dad is legally blind. I, too, started to loss my vision at age nine, when I got my first pair of glasses.

I was mainstreamed throughout early adolescence and then I changed schools and attended Illinois School for the Deaf in Jacksonville, Illinois. During my three years there, I was involved in the Deaf Academic Bowl. I enjoyed being active – you would most likely find me outside playing a sport with other classmates. After graduating, I attended several colleges, but my undergraduate career was a very lengthy process. I decided to attend and finish my degree at Rochester Institute of Technology in 2017.

Alex with his brother Matt, sister Katie, and Katie’s boyfriend, Owen.

This wasn’t my first time attending RIT, but upon returning, I was determined to finish my degree. Something that really interested me at my time at RIT was the gym and weightlifting. Upon arrival, I was thin and lanky. I remember I went to the health center for something and the nurses weighed me and I was about 150 pounds. I wanted to be more active while continuing my studies. I was a complete beginner in my first couple months, very hesitant to try the main compound movements and stuck with the machines. I started to become more confident and the progress began to improve.

While there are many work out routines in weightlifting, there are only three necessary ingredients to get bigger: proper nutrition, proper sleep, and a solid of plan of what to do. Exercise does not have to be complicated, it is as simple as picking something up and putting it down. I have been lifting seriously for around two years now and I am happy with my progress, however, if there’s something I learned in those two years is that you don’t have to do what everyone else is doing. If you don’t like a certain exercise, you can substitute it with something else – do what’s right for you and your body. This is very similar to the Hands & Voices slogan, “What works for your child is what makes the choices right.” You don’t have to justify doing an exercise over something else, just do what you enjoy. The same results can be achieved through different means.

I joined a new gym last summer near my mom’s house. It is not a franchise gym and I feel a lot more comfortable in this smaller environment. I told the owner I am hard of hearing and I was welcomed in. I love this gym, it’s very close knit and I can’t wait until gyms start to open again due to COVID-19 so I can go and train again.

At my heaviest, I was around 190 pounds and I looked a lot stronger and healthier than the 150 pound version of me when I first returned to RIT. The weight gain is a quantifiable measurement of progress without getting into the different compound movements. I joined the RIT Weightlifting Club and made new friends and tried different exercise that I really enjoyed that I wouldn’t have been able to experiment with if I didn’t go to RIT.

I love being in the gym. It’s a new environment for with new challenges every week and allows me to set goals and keep myself accountable. I have cerebellar ataxia as a part of my CAPOS syndrome. CAPOS syndrome is short for Cerebellar ataxia – areflexia – pes cavus – optic atrophy – sensorineural hearing loss (CAPOS syndrome) is a rare autosomal dominant neurological disorder characterized by early onset cerebellar ataxia, associated with areflexia, progressive optic atrophy, sensorineural deafness, a pes cavus deformity, and abnormal eye movements.

I am not athletic at all and I have dealt with balance issues all my life. However, I don’t let this stop me, if something is too difficult I take some time to reflect on what I did wrong, I film myself and ask people more knowledgeable than me for advice, and if I still struggle I will find an alternative exercise.

Alex flipping a 350 pound tire

My gym has recently reopened again due to COViD-19 pandemic and I am very excited to be back. I know it’ll take a bit for me to get used to being in the gym but I am so very eager to continue training and actually getting out of the house again.

Alex and his mom, Sue

My mom has been a great provider and she works tirelessly to make sure my brother and I have the accessibility we need. I’m a better advocator for my needs because of my mom.

Alex is currently interning at Hands & Voices as a Communication Specialist.


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