Sean Esson is a Deaflympics Gold Medal Snowboarder! I had the privilege of interviewing Sean in January 2020.
But, because I know that not all of you will read this article to the end, I am going to start where Sean ended – with a plea to support the Deaflympics athletes. The Deaf athletes struggle for funding. Hearing athletes in the Olympics and Paralympics get lots of corporate sponsors. The Deaflympics, while under the umbrella of the Olympics, is still separate, so the sponsorships don’t come as easily. The Deaf athletes have to pay for their own travel, food, lodging, and competition fees. It is HARD. Please consider sponsoring the Deaflympics by going to their website: www.usadsf.org.
Sean tried skiing for the first time when he was 13. When Sean was 15 and his brother was 7, the boys tried snowboarding. They found snowboarding challenging, and they wanted to get better. When Sean was in high school, he would go to resorts on the weekend. Sean went to Cal State Northridge (CSUN). But when he was offered a job as a snowboarding instructor at Boreal resort, he left school and became a “snow bum”. He worked at Boreal in the winters, went to South America in our summer, and traveled all over.
In 2007, Sean went to snowboard in Park City, Utah, and saw lots of Deaf people. He found out the Deaflympics were being held in Salt Lake City. He did some research to find out how to get involved. The next year, he and his Deaf brother both went to “development weekend” in Aspen, Colorado. People were blown away when they saw him and his brother snowboarding. The next year, they went to training at Mt. Hood, and then to tryouts in Park City. Sean and his brother were on the team!
In 2012, the European Deaf Sports Organisation invited the Americans to their European Championship in Finland. Sean went as the sole representative for America. People were really impressed with his skills during practice, but he did not compete well. He had socialized too much, and was tired by the time competition happened. It was a great experience for him, but he also learned to control himself and know that he had to eat right, get enough sleep, and maintain his strength for competition.
Russia had committed to hosting the 2015 Deaflympics. Sean and his younger brother were both accepted on the USA Deaf Sports Federation (USADSF) team. Sean was a coach, as well as an athlete. The Esson brothers got FIVE MEDALS, and were quite famous. Sean was not expecting to be in the “spotlight”, but he was!
The next Deaflympics became a problem. Several countries said they would host the event, but then backed out. Finally, Italy volunteered. Everything had to be rushed. With only one year to prepare, the USA snowboarding team had to struggle. Sean wore many hats! He took on responsibility of recruitment, development, fund-raising, planning, etc. It was overwhelming. Luckily, he found a person who had knowledge and skills. Sean was able to hand over those responsibilities so he could focus on team training.
At the same time, Sean was trying to balance his snowboarding life with his personal life – he was married, they had a young daughter, and his wife was pregnant. Sean was also working on his Deaf Education credential.
But all was managed! Italy was beautiful! The mountain did not have enough snow, so some events had to be moved to a different mountain two hours away. It was raining. The whole team was exhausted and stressed. The girls’ team did not have a lot of competition experience. One guy on the team hurt his knee and had to go to the hospital.
Then came the competition. Sean’s “hot” competitors were three Russian athletes. Sean was hoping for a medal, but he was afraid the Russian snowboarders would beat him. He was excited, but also stressed and PANICKED! The results were not announced for two hours. But in the end, PAH! SEAN WON THE GOLD MEDAL!!! AMERICA WON! Sean was so emotional, broken down, exhausted, and stressed. His head was exploding! Finally, all that training paid off. He called his wife, Cheryl, to tell her, even though it was 3:00 in the morning in Sacramento.
Sean also won a BRONZE medal. The girls did well, too. One woman had won GOLD, and two others won SILVER and BRONZE. And the guy who had hurt his knee came back to cheer for his team.
Sean wants people to remember that the sport is one thing. But the Deaflympics is truly about inspiring Deaf people to do their best. Sean wants to be a role model; he wants to become a better person; he wants to be the best possible representative for the Deaf community. Many people have contacted him to ask how to get involved in the Deaflympics, and awareness of the Deaflympics has spread.
Sean’s Story: When Sean was young, he was fully mainstreamed with an interpreter. When he was 15, he received a cochlear implant. He did not have his Deaf identity yet, and he would refer to himself as “hard of hearing” or “hearing impaired”. When Sean went to college at California State University, Northridge (CSUN) he became immersed in Deaf Culture and found his identity as a Deaf person for the first time.
Sean is now a husband and father. He is shown above with his wife, Cheryl, and their little daughters. Sean is going to become a teacher of the Deaf. His goal is to teach children about their Deaf identity at an early age. He does not believe children should focus on one modality. He would like to see children become bilingual, and to be able to move easily between the Deaf and hearing worlds.
So, that’s Sean’s story, and I hope you read to the end, because it’s an amazing story of passion, perseverance, and love.
Written by Nancy Grosz Sager, CA Hands & Voices