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The Roar


Seattle's Derrick Coleman: another great deaf sportsperson

William 'Dummy' Hoy was a baseball great whose deafness led to the creation of many of modern baseball's hand signals. (Wikimedia Commons)
Roar Guru
2nd February, 2014

One of the most inspiring stories in sport this week is that of Derrick Coleman. Coleman, legally deaf since the age of three, will play in tomorrow’s Super Bowl for the Seattle Seahawks against the Denver Broncos in New Jersey.

Very few deaf athletes succeed in able-bodied sports, but there are a few greats who have overcome a hearing deficit to flourish.

Who are the greatest deaf athletics? Here are five that would challenge for the mantle of the greatest deaf sportsperson of all-time.

Ildikó Újlaky-Rejtő
The Hungarian fencer took part in the foil discipline and became one of the all-time greats in the sport.

Her coaches communicated with her by writing instructions on paper, which they gave to her between training sessions.

In 1956–57 she was the junior world foil champion. In 1958, she was Hungarian foil champion. In 1963 she was World foil champion.

The Hungarian sportswoman of the year in 1963 and 1964, Rejtő competed in every Olympic Games from 1960-1976 and won seven medals; two gold, three silver and two bronze.

Her greatest triumph was in 1964 when she defeated Helga Mees for the gold medal in Toyko. Mess had beaten Rejtő twice.

Rejtő remained competitive into her 60s.


Gertrude Ederle
The American swimmer, born in 1905, began to have poor hearing after suffering measles as a child, wowever that didn’t prevent her from becoming the first woman to swim across the English Channel, in 1926.

Gertrude was trained by Jabez Wolffe, who had tried and failed the swim 22 times. Ederle’s time of 14 hours and 39 minutes remained the fastest time until 1950.

Additionally, Ederle competed at the 1924 Paris Olympics, where she won one gold and two bronze medals.

During her career she established 29 US and World Records. She was inducted into the Swimming Hall of Fame and later became a swimming teacher for the deaf.

She died aged 98.

William Hoy
Was known by many people as Dummy Hoy, but this is hardly fair; he was a smart and accomplished major league baseball player.

Hoy held the major league record for games in center field (1,726) from 1899 to 1920 and set the record for career putouts (3,958) at the time of his retirement.

Additionally he was a productive hitter, averaging .288 and recording 2,044 hits.


However Hoy is most famous for the hand signals he created, which are still used in baseball today.

When he began his professional career in Oshkosh, all umpires’ calls were shouted. While at bat, Hoy had to ask his coach if a ball or strike had been called.

A system of hand signals was devised, some of which were later adapted by the umpires!

Dean Barton-Smith
A constant advocate for deaf athletics in Australia, Barton-Smith is a two-times able-bodied National Decathlon champion.

Smith competed in the 1992 Barcelona Olympics and at the 1990 and 1994 Commonwealth Games.

He has competed in four DeAFLympics over 20 years, winning eight medals, including three golds.

In 2013, Barton-Smith received an AM for his services to the deaf.

James Burke
A feared boxer, Burke held the English heavyweight championship and was one the first modern boxers to kill an opponent, in bare-knuckle contest.


On 30 May, 1833, in a particularly brutal fight for the English heavyweight championship that lasted more than three hours, Burke defeated Simon Byrne, the Irish champion. Burke knocked him unconscious in the 10th round and Byrne died three days later.

Burke was arrested and tried for Byrne’s murder, but he was acquitted on 11 July, 1833 and subsequently freed.

In 1992 he was inducted into the Boxing Hall of Fame.