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The start of something extraordinary

Deaf Swimmer to Represent NZ

There will be no bang of the starting pistol or cheering crowds for Santana Chapman when she dives into the pool at the Deaflympics in Bulgaria later this month.

Instead a flash of light will let Santana know when to start, and spectators will wave hands to show she has plenty of support.

The Waikanae 15-year-old is profoundly deaf. She has an implant that allows her to hear, but that must be removed when she gets into the pool.

Santana has qualified for the 50m freestyle, butterfly, and breaststroke;100m freestyle and 200m freestyle for the Deaflympics, despite swimming competitively for only 18 months.

''It's very exciting. I can't wait,'' said Santana. ''I want to do my best, and maybe win a gold medal.''

Parents Phil and Liza Chapman will accompany Santana to Bulgaria, as will coach Jason McPhee from Tawa.

Mr Chapman said McPhee has been a great help in getting her to the Deaflympics, although Santana first qualified while swimming under Jon Winter at the Raumati Swimming Club.

''[McPhee] knows a bit of sign language, and is a really visual person, which has really helped Santana,'' he said.

''Jon is a great coach, but Santana had that connection with Jason because he can communicate better. It makes it very hard when Santana can't hear what the coach is saying.''

Santana is one of three Kiwi athletes competing at the Deaflympics, and the only Kiwi taking to the pool.

Once at the competition, she will have to give up her cochlear implant, and use sign language to communicate with administrators.

All officials must communicate via sign language, and sports are altered to cater to the deaf.

The usual starting clap at swim races is replaced with a beam of light to signal the start to swimmers. In football a referee uses a flag instead of a whistle, while spectators are asked to wave both hands rather than cheer or clap.

Santana and her family have raised about $20,000 for the trip, with a large number of supporters sponsoring her.

She was also invited to Parliament by National MP Chris Tremain, who wished her well for the event.

Santana leaves for Bulgaria on July 21, with the Deaflympics running in Sofia, Bulgaria from July 26 till August 4.


The Deaflympics

- The games are an International Olympic Committee-sanctioned event at which deafathletes compete at an elite level.

- Previously known as the World Games for the Deaf, and International Games for the Deaf.

- The first Deaflympics were known as the Silent games and were held in 1924 in Paris.  Nine countries sent 148 athletes to compete.

- New Zealand has hosted the Deaflympics once; Christchurch, 1989. Nintey-three athlete represented the country that year.

- Athletes compete in athletics, cycling, diving, swimming, shooting, table tennis, taekwondo, wrestling, judo, badminton, karate, orienteering, basketball, beach volleyball, volleyball.

- To qualify for the games, athletes must have a hearing loss of at least 55 decibels.

- Kapiti Observer