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Hearing-impaired soccer Buff proves she is just one of the herd

CU freshman Holly Hunter was born 100 percent deaf. With cochlear implants, her soccer career has taken off.

BOULDER, Colo. — At first glance, freshman soccer player Holly Hunter looks just like one of the 25 girls on the University of Colorado soccer team, all wearing the same selfless and homogenous gray shirt that reads "Side Over Self." One closer look at Hunter's head, reveals a deeper secret.

"I was born 100 percent deaf," she said. "I was implanted on my left side when I was 15-months-old and on my right side when I was 35-months-old."

Hunter said her family had no familiarity with any hearing-impaired person before she was born, and thus chose cochlear implants for their daughter. 

While she has no idea what "normal" hearing is, the implants help her hear near-perfectly. 

"There's a little bit of changes when I'm out here on the field, but I have great teammates that are willing to pass on the information and they're really loud, so that really helps!"

Nothing a little game of "telephone" can't fix. Head coach Danny Sanchez said he didn't even realize she was born deaf when he recruited her, and rarely has issues with communication across the field.

"To be able to overcome that, to her is not a big deal because that's just how she is, but to us, looking at her thinking, 'wow, how incredible for the type of student she is and the type of student-athlete she is,' it's just incredible," he said.

To Hunter, living and playing with amplified sound is nothing new, but she was given the silent treatment when she joined the United States Women's Deaf National Team, and was told no implants or hearing devices could be used on the field.

"Everyone has to be on the same playing level, so it was a shock. I was wondering how everyone is supposed to communicate. I was doing jumping jacks or anything just to get into their eyesight," she said.

Hunter's family was told that American Sign Language would get in the way of her speech therapy as a child, so she never learned to formally sign. Hunter picked up words and phrases through YouTube and social media, as well as her teammates on the USWDNT.

"I feel like when I'm doing hand motions, people understand me and it's another clue. So if they don't understand me, they'll know that's where she wants the ball or that's where I need to step or that's what I need to do. Every little clue can help, so I'm very animated with my hand motions."

But when she takes the pitch as a Buff, she's all ears, and it takes a special headband to hold her implants in place. 

Hunter is still just a freshman on a very talented upper-classman team, but she uses their daily battles as motivation to keep pushing toward her ultimate dreams.

"I want to be the first player to play for the US Deaf Women's National Team and the US Women's National Team," she said. "So I know that will take a lot of work and effort, but I'm willing to put in the work."

Sanchez agrees that if she's willing to put in the work -- and believe in herself -- anything is possible.

"I do know this -- if you don't think you can do it, then you have no chance to do it," he said. "I think playing in the Pac-12 and having experience with the U-15 National Team, she has a little experience with that. If you don't believe it can happen, it won't happen. If you believe it will happen, it can happen."

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