The most successful athletes are self-motivated. Parkton, Md. native, Kyle Gahagan not only motivates himself to excel in the sport of Racquetball, but he is also enthusiastic when it comes to making a difference in the handicapped sporting community. Gahagan lets nothing — neither his deafness nor being RIT’s lone racquetball athlete — hinder him from following his dreams.
When Gahagan was 12, his mother died of cancer. Gahagan then became determined to enroll in a medical school, and chose RIT because of its excellent education and support services for the deaf and hard of hearing. Gahagan emphasizes that school and his studies come first for him. RIT, however, does not have everything for him to fulfill his passions — specifically racquetball.
As a first year Biomedical Science major, it is challenging for Gahagan to schedule practice time daily and competing in high profile tournaments. Although RIT has yet to sponsor a varsity racquetball team, he proudly wears an RIT jersey. The other colleges in RIT’s Empire 8 conference do not have varsity racquetball teams, so Gahagan has to find his own way to compete in different tournaments on his own.
Gahagan travels by his own expense to tournaments, and maintains connections with sponsors to provide his equipment. “Without my sponsors; Ektelon [who provides racquets and equipment] and Rollout Racquetball [who provides jerseys and apparel], I wouldn’t be here. I break a lot of racquets and I get them replaced for free,” Gahagan grinned.
Several players form a team and play selected matches for other universities in the collegiate conference, but since Gahagan has yet to find more people as passionate or talented here at RIT, he plays all of the matches himself. He enjoys the challenge.
“I’m not the best, but it’s cool to be able to represent an entire university by yourself,” Gahagan admits. He has swept tournaments all over Albany, Pennsylvania and New Jersey registered under RIT’s name, and he will continue to play in more tournaments until the end of the official season, which ends in May. As he has won the majority of his matches, he is confident enough in his ability to compete not just the Western, but the Eastern Collegiate Conference Championships in Arizona this spring.
Born profoundly deaf, Gahagan believes that his deafness gives him an advantage; think the exact opposite of Marvel’s superhero Daredevil. “Players often depend on the sound of the ball when it bounces, but I think I am more alert and quick by depending on my vision,” Gahagan added. “I don’t wear hearing aids on the court [due to sweat], and I sign more. It’s nice sometimes because the referees don’t understand my frustrated signs.”
As part of the National Racquetball Association for the Deaf, Gahagan wants to get more deaf people interested in racquetball. He is currently corresponding with the Deaflympics (Olympics for the Deaf) to get Racquetball an official event in the upcoming 2013 Summer Deaflympics in Athens, Greece. He is proud and honored to expand his influence beyond the RIT community.
Gahagan’s next match is at Penn State this January. He will compete against the likes of Penn State, Army, Coast Guard, and Clarkson as the lone racquetball athlete hailing from RIT.