‘These kids had a coach like them’

From athlete to coach, Olivet swimming graduate assistant Samantha Elam is showcasing her talents on an international stage. This past summer, Elam traveled to San Antonio, Texas, to coach at the fourth World Deaf Swimming Championships.

Working with deaf athletes, which might become a challenge to some, comes naturally to Elam. She is legally deaf herself and has been swimming at a competitive level since childhood up until graduating from Olivet.

Elam has been involved with Deaflympics ever since she first competed in the 2007 Deaf World Championships in Taiwan at the age of 14. Her mom found a deaf swim meet held in Detroit, Michigan, and thought it would be a good opportunity to further connect Elam to the deaf community. At the meet in Detroit, she qualified for the Taiwan Deaf World Championships there.

The meet this summer in San Antonio was Elam’s first experience step- ping into a coaching role with Deaflympics.

“(It was) definitely different just because it was a completely different environment than Olivet. This time instead of being the one competing, I was behind the scenes where I just gave feedback on swims and took splits,” Elam said. “I really enjoyed it because most of the U.S. team were young and new to the team so they looked up to me as a role model.”

Elam found that while she has some coaching experience, every team is different so it was somewhat of an adjustment learning the ropes and patience was key.

Although she had an easier time relating to the swimmers than she has had in the past, “Coaching this meet was actually a little bit easier just because these kids finally had a coach who was just like them,” Elam said. “Imagine being in their shoes having a hearing coach and trying to communicate with them throughout practice all while being in the water. Here we all can read lips fluently and most communicate via sign language so there really are little to no communication errors.”


As far as being a part of the deaf community through sports, Elam has found that being around people in her community is comforting. Participating as a coach allowed her to observe coach’s meetings where coaches from various countries were present and speaking a different sign language. They adapted to different gestures and various other ways of communicating to understand each other, Elam said.

Apart from expanding herself past Olivet, gaining coaching experience and working with the organization that she loves, there was a greater gift for her that came out of this meet.

“Seeing some of the swimmers make finals in their very first Deaf meet, and then making it on the podium was very rewarding. Just seeing them light up and glow as they were handed their medals for the first time ever reminded me of what is was like and it was so amazing to be there to witness it,” Elam said.

Elam attended a Deaf Athletic Association conference in September and plans to continue coaching with them this upcoming summer.

–Whitney Whitehead, contributing writer

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