Thursday, March 06, 2008

Cheerleader Overcomes Obstacle, Accomplishes Longtime Dream 

Posted by Sasha at 6:41 PM ET

Dallas Cowboys Star
Nov '07

Performing on the midfield star at Texas Stadium is a dream come true for the young women who aspire to become Cowboys Cheerleaders. The crowd cheers, the music reaches a crescendo, and America's Sweethearts entertain 65,000 fans inside the stadium and millions more who are watching on television.

But when rookie DCC Christina Murphy made her debut in August, she didn't hear the applause. She didn't even hear the music. The 20-year-old college student is profoundly deaf in both ears. By overcoming her hearing impairment, she is serving as an inspiration to others. In a Q&A, Murphy shares her story in her own words.

Murphy: I tried out for the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders because it was something I thought I could challenge myself with. It's something I've always wanted to do because I've always looked up to these girls. With my hearing impairment, I wanted to see how far I could go with my life. Dancing is just something that makes me feel like I belong in the hearing world. That's why I wanted to experience being a Dallas Cowboys Cheerleader. I just started dancing my sophomore year of high school. I was on the South Grand Prairie Cheyanne drill team. It's really funny because back then they did a story on me and I mentioned that I wanted to be a Dallas Cowboys Cheerleader. But everybody was just kind of like, "Oh, that's cool to dream." I don't think they really believed I could do it.

The most obvious question is this: how can you dance so beautifully when you can't hear the music?

Murphy: I can hear the beat just a little bit but not the same as everybody else. I don't hear the words, I just hear some of the beat, so I kind of use my own beat inside my head. Sometimes I can feel the vibrations, but it depends on how loud it is. In the stadium, the stereo speaker is over our heads and it's not on the floor. Sometimes it's loud enough, but if it's too loud, I can't hear it either. So I'm visual in terms of taking cues from the cheerleaders around me. I watch the people in front of me, plus I have a natural instinct of knowing when to start and as long as I'm in the same beat as everyone else, I can do it. It takes practice with some of the music. At night, I go to bed with my iPod on and I listen to all the songs just in case my hearing aids go out or something goes wrong, I still have the beat in my head. I use dancing as something I love to do and I'm very passionate about it because I create my own stories.

Have you been hearing impaired since birth?

Murphy: I have been profoundly deaf in my right ear since birth and now I'm also profoundly deaf in my left ear. I've been hit in the head several times in my life and it's increasingly getting worse. In my right ear, I can't hear anything even with a hearing aid on. There's no use for it.

You speak so clearly and are very easy to understand. Did you have extensive speech therapy?

Murphy: I was put into a school called Callier's when I was six weeks old. That helped me be around other deaf kids and learn to talk. And every word that I've ever learned, my mother (Linda) has taught me and I'm working with them in school. She later put me in a public school and she would have to pre-teach and post-teach me every lesson before it was actually given in the class so that I could keep up with everybody else.

In school, did other kids or adults make fun of your hearing impairment?

Murphy: People sometimes didn't believe that I was deaf because I have always functioned as a hearing person. That was my goal in my life: treat me like a hearing person, don't treat me like a deaf person. I can do everything else just like everybody else. But people always told me that I wasn't going to be able to graduate high school or some of them would make fun of my words because you can hear some of my nasal words. Kids used to make fun of the way I talk and I've always had to ignore them and move on. That's what helped make me the person I am today because I want to be in the hearing world and want people to know that we can do anything we want. Just because you're deaf doesn't mean you're stupid and you can't do anything. But it is hard because there is no other deaf person around and sometimes I feel lonely in my own world. But the closer I'm getting with everybody, it's making me happier.

Your family must have been very supportive.

Murphy: My mom and dad have always been behind me in anything I've ever wanted to do. And they never doubt anything. So long as I said I wanted to be a DCC, my mom always helped me believe it's something I could do. I think they're proud that I'm doing what's expected of me and that I can be a role model to other people and show that they can't give up. I'm hard on myself and sometimes I feel like I'm never going to get where I want to be, but as long as I keep pushing, it shows me that I can. I've already had several hard times in the DCC process and just being here every single day is a struggle, but I love it. I need that challenge.

Could you share the story of your meeting with another famous hearing-impaired woman?

Murphy: When I was in third grade I was able to meet Heather Whitestone and she was Miss America 1995. I realized that she was deaf. After I met her I learned her story a few months later and truly understood what she was doing. For me to know that she had overcome her disability to become Miss America made me realize that I, too, could do anything I want. Just trying to follow her footsteps in life is something I've been doing. She loves dancing but I didn't know what dancing was until my sophomore year. When I read her book recently I realized that she and I view dancing the same way. She uses it to worship God, and that kind of is my way too. That's what God has given me and that's my way of communicating with people is by dancing. You don't have to talk when you're dancing. I used to be petrified of talking in front of people because I don't know the sound of my own voice. People tell me that I sound like a regular person, but it's kind of hard for me to take that in.

Do you ever think that your hearing impairment could be a blessing because you experience the world in a unique way, and you can now use that impairment to inspire other people?

Murphy: I think that my hearing is a blessing even though I struggle a lot and sometimes I do get mad at God about it. I think that when I look back at all that He's given me, I think my hearing impairment has made me a stronger person. Without it, I wouldn't have been as driven to be successful. I wouldn't trade it for anything else in the world.

What do I as a hearing-capable person take for granted?

Murphy: All the beautiful sounds that you hear that I don't hear at all. I wish I could hear them. And you know the sound of your voice. You can easily communicate with people. I have a hard time trying to sit down with someone in a group and know what they're talking about because I only get bits and pieces of conversation because I'm reading lips and people turn their head in different directions. I get kind of lost. I don't know how to sign, but I'm going to learn in the fall. People take for granted that they can hear anything. They don't know how hard it is for me to sit down and have a nice conversation.

You're a college student?

Murphy: I'm going to Texas Woman's University. I used to be a dance major, but I changed it to health studies so that I can go into occupational therapy. Before this, I was at Kilgore Junior College where I was a Rangerette (drill team). I think the Rangerettes helped give me confidence. Just being around them and the discipline they have made it easier for me to learn and pick up dances faster. I had to push myself in different challenges over there, so I think I was more ready after that experience.

Finish the sentence, please. Cowboys fans would be surprised to know that life as a Dallas Cowboys Cheerleader is....

Murphy: It is something you can't understand through words, but you have to experience and you'll fall in love with it. The first time we performed in front of fans at Texas Stadium was a sense of accomplishment for me. Knowing that I can be entertainment for everyone, well, it was fun being with everyone. That's what I love to do. I wasn't scared at all. It was really relaxing, which took me by surprise. It was a little scary walking down the tunnel, but once I got down there and looked at everyone, it wasn't scary at all. We had been rehearsing for three months so we were very prepared and I just wanted to enjoy myself. I knew that there was nothing I should worry about.

Have the other cheerleaders been supportive of you and the other rookies on the squad?

Murphy: I think everybody has been supportive. I think that people do forget that I'm deaf because there have been practices where it's raining and I have to take off my hearing aid. If they're talking, they have to face me or I can't see what they're saying.

Isn't that the ultimate compliment to you, when other people forget that you're deaf?

Murphy: That's what I've always wanted my whole life, just to hear that I'm like everybody else. Lately I'm accepting the fact that I'm deaf because people, knowing that I'm a deaf cheerleader, think it can be inspiring. Now I have to take a step back and be like, "Yeah, I'm deaf but I shouldn't hide it, it's not something I need to hide anymore; I'm not in elementary school." It's hard because I think about it all the time, but it's something that is good for me. Just doing interviews alone is good because it makes me talk more and that's something I have to be strong for.

What is your message to a young person who might be scared to try out for a team or squad because they fear not making the cut?

Murphy: I think that if you have a gut feeling to do something, you should do it because we're only given one lifetime. You need to make the best out of it. Doing what you want to do is making you stronger. You may not be successful in your first try, but at least it builds you up. Have the guts and just do it. There's nothing that you need to hide.

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