You wouldn’t know it by interacting with him, but Stetson men’s tennis sophomore Egor Panyushkin has been deaf since early childhood.
What the Hatter can only attribute to the combination of medicine to help a serious ailment and a stressful car accident, Panyushkin slowly but surely lost his hearing around the age of seven.
His ailment was cause for embarrassment as a child growing up around friends and classmates in his hometown of Moscow, Russia.
“When I was young I was embarrassed a little. That’s why I grew my hair out,” Panyushkin said of his efforts to hide his hearing aid.
These days he reads the lips of his coaches so well, and improved technology has made his hearing aid virtually unnoticeable that Panyushkin says the ailment does not negatively affect him anymore.
Rather, he has turned it into a positive. This summer Panyushkin took advantage of an opportunity to compete for his country in the 22nd Deaflympics in Sofia, Bulgaria.
Recognized by the International Olympic Committee since 1955, the International Committee of Sports for the Deaf (ICSD) provides sporting opportunities to deaf people around the world. The biggest event for the ICSD is the Deaflympics, which is held every four years.
Immediately following his freshman season with the Hatters this past spring, Panyushkin made a trip home to compete in the Russian Deaf National Championship. After winning that tournament, he earned a spot as his nation’s representative in the Deaflympics.
He couldn’t have been more excited about the opportunity.
“Russia puts the Olympics, the Paralympics, and the Deaflympics on the same level now,” Panyushkin said, “so it’s a big deal to the country if you perform well.”
And perform well, he did. In a field of 50 athletes, Panyushkin advanced to the men’s tennis quarterfinals before falling to France’s Mikael Laurent. He eventually finished in fifth place overall.
“I was the youngest one, so the next time I can do even better,” Panyushkin said of his likelihood of returning to the Deaflympics. “I have a chance to play in at least two more.”
It wasn’t just the competition that made the experience one to remember for the Stetson student-athlete. He also spoke fondly of the time he was able to spend with others like him.
He never spent time with other deaf children while growing up in Russia; he was always living a normal life, so Panyushkin never learned sign language. That changed at the Deaflympics.
“I learned the deaf language in one week,” he said.
Although much slower at signing than his teammates, who had been doing it for years, Panyushkin cherished the opportunity to bond with them, and he can’t wait to represent his country again in 2017.