Members area



Don't have a login?

Join us

Become a member

  • Connect with others through events, workshops, campaigns and our NEW online forum, Your Community
  • Discover information and insights in our resource hub and receive the latest updates via email
  • Access one-to-one support and tailored services which help reduce barriers for deaf children
Menu Open mobile desktop menu

Oliver's a triple threat

Not one for sitting still, Oliver is thriving as an outdoor activity coach and barista, all while training hard to fulfil his dream of becoming a professional triathlete.

From sun up to sun down, Oliver’s on the move. “On a typical day, I wake up at 5.30am and swim for two hours. Then I go to work till 4.30pm, followed by a run and strength conditioning till 7pm. I’ve only got about an hour and a half to get myself dinner and then go to bed,” he says. “If I’m not working, I’m training. If I’m not training, I’m working.”

Oliver, who’s profoundly deaf and wears a cochlear implant on his right side, first discovered his love of running when he was in primary school. “I went to a mainstream school, but the teachers didn’t know how to communicate with me. They would send me to detention as an easy way to get rid of me. The sports department was the only one that understood me and took care of me.”

When he went to university, Oliver discovered his natural aptitude for triathlon and was later invited to train with a British Triathlon Satellite Centre. “Everyone in the centre knows I’m deaf,” he says. “They’ve introduced hand signals since I’ve come on board, like ‘slow down’ or ‘turn around’. My coach went on a deaf awareness course before I joined too.”

Because a triathlon starts with swimming, Oliver doesn’t wear his cochlear implant when he races. “I race without hearing a single thing,” he says. “It’s very nerve-wracking because, at the start of the swim, everyone’s listening for the gun, but I can’t hear it, so I have to react to everyone else.

“When we move on to cycling, I don’t waste any time by putting on my hearing device. Cycling is a dangerous sport – you have to always be alert so you don’t accidentally clip someone’s wheel. Since I can’t rely on sound, I have to use my visuals to try and figure out where everyone is.”

Oliver thinks it’s important to make sure everyone at a triathlon race is aware he’s deaf. “I always tell the organisers so they know I won’t be able to hear the marshal.” Making sure his competitors are also aware, Oliver wears a triathlon suit with ‘DEAF’ written in bold on it during races.

To support himself while training as a triathlete, Oliver works two alternating seasonal jobs. During the summer, he works as an outdoor activity centre instructor.

As with his triathlon races, Oliver makes sure everyone at the activity centre is aware he’s deaf. “For the climbing wall, I’ll tell the kids, ‘If you need to come down, make sure someone on the ropes tells me, because I can’t hear the climber, and make sure I have eye contact.’ I’ll also give a demonstration to help them understand,” says Oliver.

One perk of the job is the good relationship Oliver has with his colleagues. “The team knows I’m deaf and we have our own secret made-up sign language,” he says. “If we need something, we can all sign it and everyone knows what’s happening. The team is a lot of fun.”

For safety reasons, Oliver has chosen not to instruct in water-based activities such as windsurfing or kayaking. “I’d rather not put myself in a situation where I can’t hear the group on the water because the chance of a serious accident is higher,” he explains.

When summer’s over, Oliver works at a National Trust café. “There are no carpets or curtains, so it’s quite a noisy environment. I don’t mind working the tills, but if it’s busy or the customer talks quietly, I’ll struggle to understand them,” he says. “I like working as a barista better because I can just read the customer’s order on the receipt and make it.”

Oliver has avoided getting orders wrong by being clear and open with his communication. “Before I finish processing an order, I’ll always repeat back what I think the customer has said to make sure I got it right. If not, I’ll keep checking with them until they tell me I’ve got the order correct,” he says. “When I’m tidying up around the café and someone asks me a question, I’ll try to work out what the sentence could be and then repeat back what I think they’ve asked, such as, ‘Oh, do you want to know where the toilets are?’

“I’ll sometimes tell customers I’m deaf if I’m really struggling, and it helps that my name badge has ‘deaf’ in brackets next to my name. One time a customer was becoming a bit agitated after I’d gone back and forth with him trying to figure out his order. But when I said, ‘Sorry, I’m deaf,’ he became very apologetic!”

Oliver’s co-workers have also made small adjustments to support him at the café. “My co-workers know I can only hear from one side, so they move around so I can hear them,” he says. “Some of them have learned the signs for words like ‘latte’, ‘regular’ and ‘take away’.”

With two different jobs and a strict training regimen, Oliver can sometimes feel exhausted. “Being at work all day, I’m so switched on trying to lip-read, trying to focus on everything. I’m always on the alert,” he says. “There are times I just want to sit down, have a nice cup of tea and not speak to anyone. Luckily, going for a run usually helps me get rid of stress. I can just relax, enjoy the environment and listen to music.”

Summer 2023 Families magazine