A Skater’s journey To Conquer Hearing Loss

By Meg McSherry Breslin, Child’s Voice Board of Directors Member

Child’s Voice graduate Tessa Brannigan, a west suburban high school sophomore, is excelling as a competitive ice skater and budding advocate for children with hearing loss.

In the past year, Tessa and her Woodridge-based figure skating team were one of just five junior teams chosen by the U.S. Figure Skating Theatrical Skating Committee to represent Team USA in the Nations’ Cup, a prestigious international Theater on Ice Competition.

While Tessa’s team did not place in the competition, she said just being part of the event hosted by the Boston Figure Skating Club was extraordinary.

“Nations’ Cup was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and an experience I will never forget,” Tessa said. “What I appreciated most about it was that we could bond with the other teams that represented Team USA. We all sat in one section, waving American flags as other teams skated.”

Tessa, who was born with profound hearing loss and has two cochlear implants, learned to advocate for herself early in life, with the help of Child’s Voice educators. That advocacy came in handy when she ran into stressful situations at skating competitions and wasn’t able to hear her song at the start of her skate. In several instances, she was able to make up the seconds after realizing the music had started. But in one case, it took nearly 20 seconds before Tessa realized her music was piping through, and she could not make up the time to put on a performance that matched her skills.

After that skate, one of the judges let Tessa know about a new opportunity for skaters with disabilities to apply for reasonable accommodations through the U.S. Figure Skating Association’s Skating Accommodation Memorandum (SAM). Through that program, Tessa was approved to receive a physical cue when her music begins – relieving a lot of nervousness on competition days.

Drawing on her experience learning to self-advocate at Child’s Voice, Tessa did not hesitate to apply for the program.

“Now that I get I visual cue to start my program, some of the anxiety I feel when I’m competing is gone,” Tessa said. “Now I can just be worried about skating my best program like the rest of the girls.”

Tessa has since described her experience applying for the memorandum in several publications, helping to spread the word for other skaters with hearing loss.

Living with profound hearing loss continues to have its challenges, but Tessa is feeling increasingly comfortable navigating through life knowing her disabilities don’t need to prevent her from pursuing her dreams. She’s a dedicated student and was recently selected to attend the AG Bell Association for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing LOFT program at Georgetown University, where she spent time with other students with hearing loss and learned how to enhance her skills at public speaking and self-advocacy.

Tessa is also using her skating and leadership talents to develop and encourage other skaters. In addition to numerous hours of weekly practice for her own team, she’s teaching in the learn-to-skate program as well as providing private lessons at the Willowbrook Ice Arena.

“It’s really rewarding because I get to see each skater’s journey,” she said, “and help them excel and find a passion for the sport in the same way I did.”