December 16, 2014 / By Brian Smith
In a Canyon’s Embrace, Inner Walls Come Down
While the scenery of the Grand Canyon from a raft is inspiring on its own, Bobby found a more profound view this summer. It was a better view of himself and of his future.
Deaf since birth, Bobby attended No Barriers’ Leading the Way program, a 12-day journey along the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon. The expedition combined students who are deaf and hard of hearing with those without hearing loss.
Before signing up, Bobby, 17, said he was constantly reserved, felt awkward and was afraid of being judged because of his hearing loss. Relaxing in Blacktail Canyon, swimming in the river and experiencing Havasu Falls with his 19 other newly-made friends, Bobby said his outer walls came down.
“I had always been afraid to show my true self to others, but being immersed in this group during the trip made me so comfortable with them that I was able to come out of my shell,” he said.
From that place, he started to feel better about his hearing loss, too. After he returned home, he said he was more comfortable with it, and started to “act as if it did not even exist.”
That confidence was rooted, he said, in making so many new friends and learning more about how socialize. One of the friends he made was Taylor, who has a cochlear implant in his right ear and uses a hearing aid for the loss in his left ear.
After a former speech teacher sent him an email about the program, Taylor, 19, was immediately enthused. He knew it would be a fun experience and challenge him in ways he couldn’t anticipate.
In the canyon, he endured long hikes, rainstorms and rapids.
“It sent chills through my body and when we went through the biggest rapid, I hung on for my dear life,” he said. “It was the coldest water I’ve gone through.”
But he emerged a more eager and optimistic person.
He was ready to take on more challenges in the classroom and tackle a “nightmare” math class he had been struggling with. He also gained the confidence to sign up for his school’s computer science club.
“The most important thing was that I have a future,” he said. “It may be a different one, but I have a purpose.”
Bobby also found an academic spark. He thought he’d skip college because he didn’t feel there was a career that suited his interests. But after learning about nature and seeing “what beauty the world could actually offer” he decided on an environmental major.
That decision had immediate benefits in his day-to-day life. He said he is more organized, gets better grades, feels happier and “has a better grasp on life.”
Taylor was also moved by the canyon’s beauty.
“I’ve been talking with my parents about how we are going to fix up the world,” he said, explaining that he wants to make the word a safer place by studying cyber security at the National Technical Institute for the Deaf at Rochester Institute of Technology.
Kaitlyn Millen, No Barriers Youth Specialty Programs Coordinator, led the expedition both Bobby and Taylor took. What they experienced is exactly how Leading the Way trips are designed to help students who are deaf and hard of hearing.
“When students who are deaf and hard of hearing are able to connect with one another, they can talk about shared experiences and support each other,” Millen said. “When they see they are not alone, they demonstrate incredible growth in their confidence, seeing that what's within them can change the world.”
Both Taylor and Bobby encouraged others to sign up. Don’t think about it — just do it, Bobby said.
“It seems scary at first, but I assure you that you will have absolutely no regrets about going on the trip,” he said. “You will have a second family supporting you the whole way through a once in a lifetime opportunity.”