Deaf girl succeeds in hearing world

In an essay describing herself, Chelsea Owen-Self wrote, "I am a nice girl like a rainbow and I am a friendly person."

Then she added, "I am a deaf girl."

In life, as in the essay, she concentrates more on who she is and who she wants to become rather than what she can't hear.

Chelsea, who turns 16 today, was the first deaf student to join mainstream classes at Dayton Intermediate School four years ago.

She transferred to Carson High School this year and became the first deaf trainer for the football team.

"It's exciting to watch the football games, they're rowdy," she said through her grandmother Jo Cole. "I get water for my team a lot."

Cole and her husband, Smokey, raised Chelsea and her brother, Drew, since they were babies.

Chelsea was born "profoundly deaf" and started taking classes in basic sign language at 18 months. She started school when she was 2, riding a bus for more than an hour each way.

The Coles also took courses in sign language.

"It's been one of the most rewarding challenges I've ever had," Jo Cole said. "I'm so grateful I got to raise her. She's the greatest spirit I have ever met, and I'm not saying that because I'm her grandmother."

Chelsea lives with her grandparents in Dayton and attended Bordewich-Bray Elementary School in Carson City, where there are programs for hearing-impaired students.

She went to Dayton for intermediate school ,but wanted to return to Carson High School, where there were more resources and her friends from elementary school.

She finally received a variance this year, History teacher Troy White recommended she take the sports medicine class after learning of her lifelong love of football.

Athletic trainer Frank Sakelarios eagerly welcomed Chelsea to the class, which meets after school during football practice.

"We use a lot of gestures," he explained. "I make sure I look at her when I talk to her and, if we have to, we'll get out the pen and paper.

"So she's deaf. So what?"

Classmate Jessica Goddard, 15, was a little more skeptical at first.

"She was like the first deaf person I ever talked to so I was a little nervous," she said. "But she's really easy to be around, and she's fun."

Kathleen Davis, 17, has known Chelsea for seven years.

"She's really outgoing and really nice," she said. "She works with you so if you don't understand what she's saying, she'll repeat it or think of new ways to say it so you can get it."

Cole said Chelsea's ability to accommodate different situations helps her fit in with both the hearing and deaf communities, even though the cultures are different. Even sentence structure varies between the two.

"Chelsea always feels that she fits in everywhere," Cole said. "It really doesn't matter if they're deaf or hearing -- a friend is a friend."

Like other teens, Chelsea has an assortment of dreams, and they are likely to change at any given moment.

In the past, she has wanted to be a game warden, a sheriff and a dolphin trainer.

Now she has a new goal.

"I am thinking about being a doctor someday," she said. "This new job will help me decide if I want to go on in school."

She has also considered pursuing art. She first used drawing as a way to communicate and now uses it as a creative expression.

Whatever she decides, her grandmother will support her.

"There's no limitations put on anybody in life," Cole said. "You only limit yourself."


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