The crowd roar on game day is a little different for South Carolina’s freshman year of volleyball Lauren McCutcheon. McCutcheon is deaf, but has followed in her parents’ footsteps to become a Gamecock and is not interested in letting her long-standing disability stand in the way of her goals.
“I was born completely deaf,” said McCutcheon, who comes to the program from Greenville, SC “I told my teammates, don’t treat me any differently. Don’t take your words slowly. Just be yourself.”
McCutcheon had surgeries on both ears for cochlear implants when she was very young, but she had a bad reaction to the procedure in her left ear and has since used only the device in her right, which ‘she can put on and take off. The implant involved placing a magnet inside his head that attracts a magnet into the device. After the operation, she began to work in speech therapy and, around the fourth grade, began to read lips.
âIt affected many aspects of her growth,â said Kendra Stout, Lauren’s mother. âCommunication was obviously extremely delayed. It also affected his cognitive development at the school level. Some classes were much more difficult for her. When you don’t sign and you fall behind in developing verbal skills, your relationships process a little slower. “
Looking back, McCutcheon couldn’t enjoy some of the simple pleasures the same way many children take for granted, like going to the pool, lake, or the beach with friends, because she would have to remove her implant.
âShe handled it like a champ,â Stout said. âAll the things that you normally do in the water, playing Marco Polo and stuff, it kind of drifted away. It was pretty heartbreaking but we have a very strong belief in God, and we know that we are all made in Her image With her deafness, she was made this way to find a way to overcome it and inspire others to do the same.
âIt was a challenge for her, but it sparked a bit of inspiration. She had to work harder at things that would be normal for us. This desire to work harder and improve instilled in her an ethic of pretty special job. ”
“I didn’t want to be different. Now I started to realize that it was okay to be like that.”
This work ethic has helped McCutcheon thrive as a student and athlete. She has been nominated four times in all states at JL Mann Academy in Greenville, SC, and was named Volleyball Player of the Year at Gatorade High School in South Carolina as a senior.
Prior to coming to South Carolina, McCutcheon also had the opportunity to represent the United States as a member of the National Deaf Volleyball Team in 2019 at the Pan Am Deaf Games in Brazil. After playing for the team and winning a gold medal, she plans to return for the Deaflympics this spring for the 2022 games in Caxias do Sul, Brazil.
âIt was a lot of fun traveling to different countries and playing in different countries. Two years ago when we went it was my first time out of the country,â said McCutcheon. “It’s definitely different from college volleyball because you have to remove your implants and be completely deaf on the court.”
Her impact as an athlete continued as Gamecock, where she started every game of her first season. She prides herself on being known for her high level of play, rather than her inability to hear.
Current teammate Riley whitesides She also holds a lot of pride, a pride that first developed when the two were team-mates at club level years ago. Whitesides, also from Greenville, recalled learning of McCutcheon’s deafness during practice, but soon realized that her future college teammate was not going to let it hold her back on the pitch.
âEven at 14, it was always something you forgot once we started playing, and it was honestly inspiring for us as teammates to see,â said Whitesides. âShe’s just one of those people who takes what she’s given and makes the most of it. She never really lets things affect her in a negative way and that’s something anyone can learn from.
âThat first year at the club together, our whole team was very close. Lauren and I were messing around off the pitch and sometimes on the pitch. It’s those memories of our youth that I love, and we can look back today and see how far we’ve both come. It means a lot because we started out as babies chasing local tournament championships and now we’re focused on doing something bigger together , seeing us continue to grow along the way. “
In addition to her first-day lineup position, McCutcheon also caused a stir with two weekly SEC awards, including the Conference Player of the Week award on September 20, making her the first Gamecock rookie in history. of the program to be recognized by the conference. as its best performing.
McCutcheon doesn’t just have an impact with his team. She has also done community outreach to help those who are hard of hearing.
“I have one child in particular, Sophia, who is three or four years old and she has the same cochlear implants. She has them both,” McCutcheon said, her face lighting up when she mentioned it. âI see I’m showing people that you can grow up and be great. She’s so cute, and she wears a little headband to hold her implants because she’s so small and her ears are so small, the implants are falling out. “
The relationship means as much to McCutcheon as it does to Sophia.
“(This is important) because I know what it is. Growing up it won’t get any easier, but you will start to learn to make it easier. College has been the worst three years of my life with it. cochlear implants. I just felt embarrassed, but people really support you. You just tell them and they’ll support you. It’s amazing how great people are. “
This prospect was slow to develop for McCutcheon, however.
âWhen I was younger, I wasn’t completely open to telling people I was deaf,â she said. âI had a hard time telling people and always wore my hair down so no one would see the implant. I didn’t want to be any different. Now I started to realize that it was okay to do so. to be like that. Not everyone is perfect and I have definitely become better at telling people that. “
Not only does she admit to being more comfortable bringing up the topic of her deafness with people she meets, but the aspiring athletic trainer admits that her journey has helped develop a love for talking and meeting new people.
âShe’s just an amazing person,â Stout said. âEvery day with her I learn something more from her that impacts my life and my interactions with others. Lauren and Sophia bonded. It probably brought back a lot of what Lauren went through being. child. She’s absolutely a model role. You want to make sure that kids (Sophia’s) age have someone to talk to and whom they look up to. I always told Lauren to dream big because that is here for you! “
As she navigates her freshman year on campus, McCutcheon appreciates her family, friends and teammates for being her biggest supporters and encourages other people with disabilities to do whatever it takes to pursue their dreams.
“Do whatever you want. Enjoy life. Have fun. There’s nothing you can do about it and it’s not your fault, so make the most of it!”