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What Tour de France riders do for three weeks is pretty astounding. But what if they couldn't hear? That's the situation for John Klish, a deaf cyclist who will compete at the upcoming Deaflympics in Sofia, Bulgaria (July 26-Aug. 4).
Imagine biking on a road if you weren't able to hear the sound of an approaching car. Or racing when you can't hear a competitor coming up behind you.
"That was one of the reasons why I started with mountain biking when I was 15 years old. I was intimidated by cars," Klish wrote in an email. "Eventually, I started riding road bikes in college and that help me break that barrier. I just needed to know how to ride along the road.
"I never hear cars coming. I just stay to the far right and keep an eye out, look behind me every minute or so. For mountain bike races, I look back behind me more frequently and take the responsibility to move over if I see someone. I also can look down between my arms and see how close the person is if he/she is right on my butt.
"I've had the typical near misses where people are just driving by you too close. I've learned over the years, it's better to wave thank you to those that do move over and do not respond to those who cut close to you. Save your energy for the beautiful ride ahead of you and for thanking the right actions!"
Klish says he was born with bi-lateral profound hearing loss of at least 85 decibels. He is deaf in both ears and requires hearing aids to hear any conversation. Even then, "I only hear voice sounds, so I have to look at the person speaking so I can comprehend what the sounds are."
The Deaflympics http://www.deaflympics.com/ have been held every four years since 1949, and more frequently before the interruption of World War II (the first competition was in Paris in 1924). They are separate from the Olympics and Paralympics, and as Klish understands it, they are operated almost exclusively by the deaf and hearing impaired. Competitors must have a hearing deficit of at least 55 decibels. They must also cover their own expenses.
Klish raised enough money by sponsoring bike rides and starting a webpage, and with savings from his job with the Colorado Department of Transportation. But others still need help. "I think it's also important for the fans to know that there are other deaf athletes that need help to raise money, raise awareness and support them," he said. "Please seek out your favorite deaf athlete and support them to attend this year's Deaflympics."
Klish will be one of 120 American athletes competing in Sofia. He'll be riding in the 1000M sprint, the 40K time trial, the road race and the 50KM points race.
"The only disadvantage I can think of is not being able to hear anyone come up from behind right before a sprint," he said of riding while deaf. "I have to look around a bit more and be more aware of these riders urging forward. I just started road racing again a couple of years ago and it's just a bit different world for me.
"I'm learning how to overcome that challenge at the moment. I'm almost there -- that's what I love, anyway -- challenges that push me to learn more techniques, skills and ideas to overcome certain obstacles and disadvantages. I immensely enjoy learning how to find strengths in those weaknesses, and then teaching others these invaluable tools."
You can say that again. In addition to being deaf, Klish also overcame testicular cancer. There is a certain other cyclist who survived that, but of the two, I find Klish to be more inspiring.