Deaf Sports Stars6th March 2014

Danielle Joyce Swimming into the Record Books

One of the brightest British sports prospects, Danielle hopes for more recognition for deaf sport

by Sarah Lawrence

Just occasionally, a sporting talent comes along who looks at the height of the bar set by their predecessors, and just jumps right over it. In terms of athletics years ago, this might have been Roger Bannister. More recently, but still on the track, Usain Bolt the sprinter fits the bill. In the swimming pool a youngster named Ian Thorpe took the world by storm. In terms of deaf swimming, there is a Scottish swimmer who is setting the deaf world of swimming alight and we were fortunate to be given an exclusive interview with Danielle Louise Joyce, aged just 17, but already a multiple world record holder.

Danielle’s parents first found out that she was deaf when she was 5 years old. Whilst her parents were troubling over the reason behind her deafness, Danielle was just getting on with her life, and it was only when she received her first hearing aids that she realised how much she had been missing. With little support available outside of their audiology department, Danielle’s parents were left frustrated at now knowing why their daughter was losing her hearing and what they could do to best support her.

In her latest audiogram Danielle was found to have a 98db hearing loss in the right ear and 87db loss in her left, with her hearing having declined quickly since she was about 13 years of age. “My hearing loss was moderate and fairly static from the point I was diagnosed at 5 up to 13, but it has declined dramatically since then,” Danielle explained. “If the loss continues, I will be profoundly deaf in both ears and will need a cochlear implant.”

An impressive student in school, Danielle has achieved great results throughout and is currently Head Girl at the Auchenharvie Academy. She is also a platinum sports ambassador for the school. In amongst her academic results, Danielle achieved an A in music where she played grade 7/8 tuba. Despite being academic, Danielle describes school as “ok”. She is currently studying for 2 Highers in Biology and Psychology, in which she hopes to achieve A grades in both. Looking beyond her current studies, Danielle is hoping to go to University to study Sports Science, a route that will help her to continue her development as a swimmer.

Taught orally, Danielle is quite good at lip-reading. Having been taught the BSL alphabet by her mother when she was small, she has gone on to learn some British and American Sign Language phrases. Whilst much of her schooling has been a success, Danielle found that she could not continue with French because the listening aspect of the course proved too difficult. She also had some difficulty with music but playing the tuba so well was enough to get her a good grade. “Sometimes hearing teachers in a noisy classroom was just too difficult”, Danielle described.

Because Danielle had started school by the time she was first diagnosed with a loss of hearing, her parents left her in mainstream schooling. As Danielle coped well and continued to progress with good results, her parents did not have to look at alternatives. However, they did play their part in ensuring her needs as a deaf student were recognised and accommodated. “Danielle has always been in mainstream school and was only diagnosed with moderate hearing loss in primary 1,” her mum told me. “We worked with her secondary school who helped immensely with staff awareness and providing a separate environment for listening exams.”

Taking up swimming as a toddler, Danielle joined North Ayreshire Swimming Club to join her sister when 7 years old. When she first joined the club her hearing did not cause any difficulty with coaching, but as her hearing deteriorated it became increasingly difficult to get the instruction she needed. Progressing well, Danielle had to cut down on her training when she was 11 due to serious tendon problems in her knees and ankles. In September 2011, she then broke a bone in her foot forcing her to quit all sport for a while. At that point, she decided she was not going to return to the pool.

However, with the resulting 3-month forced break from sport and the natural passage of time in respect of her body growing, Danielle’s knee problems improved and she found herself back in the gym training and running. Feeling fit and healthy again, Danielle quickly realised she was missing the pool. Her return to fitness coincided with an invitation to attend a small disability swimming event that was being held next to her school. She attended and was encouraged to consider taking part in deaf swimming, an opportunity that she did not even know existed.

Returning to the water, Danielle is delighted with her coach’s approach, “My coach understands my problems and we work together to make sure I get to read the sets (training schedule) before I start and she knows she has to face me to make sure I can lip-read her instructions. My coach is fab,” she beamed.

Since returning to the pool and throwing herself energetically into her training regime, Danielle quickly improved her swimming times and rose quickly up the swimming rankings. Her return to the pool saw her selected in 2012 to swim for the GB team at the 2013 Deaflympics on the proviso that her times were good enough. In March 2013, Danielle announced that she was well on course to meet the times needed when she broke the Deaf World Short Course Record in the 100m backstroke and 100m individual medley in a National Disability Swimming Event in Sheffield.

Through continued hard work, Danielle reached the targets expected of her and travelled to the Deaflympics in Sophia where she reached the final in seven out of the seven events she took part in. Missing out by inches for a medal, this nevertheless announced to the world that Danielle was a young lady on the move in swimming circles. It was a good experience, “The Deaflympics was amazing”, Danielle described. “I was a bit gutted at not getting among the medals. I have made so many friends around the world from the experience. Fundraising was really difficult but my dad helped me get some stuff locally from my schools and shops including us standing at the door of Tesco with a bucket for 6 hours. North Ayrshire Council helped me through their Nurturing excellence scheme.”

Danielle’s father volunteers a lot of his time to support the administration of GB Deaf Swimming and like his daughter, he is hopeful that deaf sport will gain better recognition and support in the future. When asked what is needed to improve deaf sport, he said, “Funding, publicity and recognition of their achievements as we feel that people do not realise the disadvantage deaf athletes or children are at.”

Hungry for further success, Danielle set three more Deaf World Short Course Records in November 2013, breaking her own records in the 100m backstroke and IM, and claiming the world record in the 200 IM.

Travelling to Rochester in the United States in January, Danielle was once again competing against most of the best deaf swimmers in the world. She left this swim meet having performed brilliantly, setting no less than four new world records in the 200 IM, 50, 100 and 200m backstroke. Commenting on her US achievements Danielle told me, “I was over the moon because I managed to beat the gold and silver medallists from the Deaflympics at backstroke. Everyone was so great as well and I made friends with swimmers from countries like Russia, Taipei and of course USA. I was really nervous as I was the only swimmer from GB”.

Commenting on her successes, Danielle’s father said, “We are so proud of not only her swimming achievements but also her academic and community achievements, especially the way she has coped with the dramatic loss of hearing over the last few years at such an important time in her education. To compete at the level she does after the leg problems she had growing up shows us how determined she is to succeed.”

Despite the success, a return to the UK saw Danielle back into her weekly training regime involving 8 swim sessions, 3 gym sessions and a one to one session with her coach. It is a pretty gruelling programme but with Jess Ennis as her sporting hero, you can see where this young lady gets her inspiration. Despite the seriousness of the sport and the extent of the training required to compete at the top, there are still moments to smile about as Danielle recalled.

“I was waiting at the blocks to start a mainstream race and there were no lights with the starting system, so I needed a ‘Tapper’. I use my friend Jen, but she was having a shower, so I told the referee he had to wait and Jen came running round with a towel wrapped around her to tap me to start the race.”

With ambitions to win gold at the next Deaflympics in 2017 Danielle is extremely appreciative of the support she has received from mum and dad. Commenting on their parental role I asked Mr and Mrs Joyce if they had any advice for other parents of deaf children, “Stay positive. Be Pro-active, not just in learning about deafness but getting the best opportunities available in school, sports and other interests that they have and let them know that anything is possible. There is no reason for them not to live a full life.”

Whilst Danielle competes in mainstream swimming events, she appreciates the opportunity deaf swimming provides. “You get to compete at the highest level against others who are in the same position as you,” she told me.

A thoughtful and articulate young lady, Danielle expressed her desire for people to see the capabilities of disabled and deaf people, rather than the over concentration on what people can’t do. Having gone through the arduous ordeal of self-funding to go to the Deaflympics, Danielle is also hopeful that through greater publicity and media coverage, deaf sport will receive greater funding in the future.

Keen to maintain her progress, Danielle competed in the DSE Junior and Youth Nationals at Sheffield at the end of March. Maintaining her superb recent form, Danielle set a further three world records, in the 100 backstroke, 100 and 200 IM. Missing out on a new 50m freestyle record by 0.02 seconds this was nevertheless a new European record, a feat Danielle matched in the 100 freestyle where she dropped under 58 seconds for the first time.

Keen to learn Danielle’s philosophy behind deaf people achieving things, I was delighted to learn it is exactly the same as mine, “Just do it.”

To find out more about GB Deaf Swimming visit their website at:

Article by Sarah Lawrence

posted in Deaf Sport / Deaf Sports Stars

6th March 2014