NORWALK, Iowa — Think about all the sounds in sports. For Ethan Froehlich, there’s only silence.
“The only limitation I have is the fact that I don’t hear,” said Ethan.
Ethan has Goldenhar Syndrome, a rare congenital condition in which parts of the face don’t develop properly, or at all.
Each case is different. Ethan had additional problems.
“A heart murmur,” said Ethan’s mother, Traci. “He has scoliosis of the spine, he has a little hemivertebrae. His esophagus wasn’t connected to his stomach, so he wasn’t able to eat after he was born. All these things that are in addition to the facial abnormalities.”
The most noticeable: Ethan’s ears never developed, leaving him deaf.
“We could correct a lot of those other things, and the deafness just became the forefront, because that’s the one thing that probably has to be dealt with on a daily basis,” said Traci Froehlich.
Ethan communicates with his hands, but lets his feet do the talking.
“I started playing soccer by watching my brother. I was much younger,” said Ethan. “He noticed I liked to touch the ball, play with the ball, kick the ball, and from there I just kind of fell in love with soccer.”
And that passion has only grown. Now a senior for Norwalk, Ethan is happy to play for both the varsity and JV squads. Because he really loves soccer.
“It helps me focus. It helps me relax. It helps me forget about other situations in life,” said Ethan. “It makes me think of nothing else, but the game.”
To play that game, Ethan needs an extra teammate. An interpreter provides a line of communication. For coaches and players, it’s different.
“To us, it feels like a struggle, trying to communicate, and we can’t even imagine the struggle that he’s going through trying to communicate with us, and take in what we’re saying back to him,” said Norwalk head coach Dustin Kralik.
“You can say it was a challenge, but it isn’t a challenge, because this is a learning experience that they can use later in life,” said Ethan. “It isn’t just about communicating with a deaf student in high school. This is something they can use throughout life.”
“He’s not afraid to fail,” said Ethan’s father Dave. “He’s more afraid not to try. Whether you’re deaf, or regular normal hearing, that’s a special characteristic for a young person to have.”
Ethan’s been involved with the U.S. deaf men’s national program, and has signed on to play college soccer at Galludet, a private university for deaf and hard-of-hearing students.
But his impact won’t be measured by goals, assists or wins.
“It’s humbling sometimes to see how many lives a person like that can touch,” said Traci. “We’ve had family members whose careers have changed, friends… just because of meeting him.”
“I was born deaf, and I’ve never seen myself as limited in any way,” said Ethan.
For Ethan, Norwalk is noiseless. And that’s fine by him.
“I love playing soccer, and will play soccer no matter where I am,” said Ethan. “I just love soccer.”
That comes across, loud and clear.
(Editor’s note: Tuesday night, Ethan scored his first varsity goal.)