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Living Loud: LeRoy Colombo – First Deaf Lifeguard and Life Saving Record Holder

Living Loud: LeRoy Colombo – First Deaf Lifeguard and Life Saving Record Holder

Deaf Culture   |  Saturday, December 29, 2018

By Marta Belsky

This article is by Marta Belsky. Marta is a third generation ASL user. She has been teaching ASL for 30 years and enjoys sharing her native language with new users.

This article is part of our "Living Loud" series, which highlights famous people who are deaf or hard of hearing and their impact in the world.

When he was seven years old, LeRoy Colombo contracted spinal meningitis, which left him deaf and paralyzed from the waist down. His brothers encouraged him to swim, a therapy which resulted in his ability to walk again. Even so, he felt more at home in the water, and found his life’s purpose as a swimmer.

Life Saver and Water Whiz

At the Texas School for the Deaf in Austin, he broke several swimming records for speed and distance. When he was twelve, he saved a child from drowning, which became the first of many lives he saved. He was also one of the first people to surf in Galveston, Texas. In 1923, Colombo joined the Galveston Toboggan Surf Club, which required members to swim for three straight hours without outside support or floating.

Boys at the swimming hole in 1922
Boys at the swimming hole in 1922. (Photo Credit: Jean F. Andrews., Retreived from Deaf in Prison Blog)

“He saved more people than I ever heard of or knew. He was one of the greatest lifeguards that ever lived. I know where he saved three people at one time, and once, four. He could sense anything going on in the water and see it before anyone else could. He’s a legend in the city of Galveston.”
     - D.K. Lack
Galveston Police Chief

He climbed into the lifeguard station perch in Galveston when he was 18, and worked there for over 40 years. He is included in the 1976 Guinness Book of World Records for saving 907 people, although the total number of saves is over 1,000. One of the most dramatic rescues involved diving under burning oil from a tugboat that had burst into flames to save the lives of two crewmen.

Galveston Police Chief D.K. Lack said, “He saved more people than I ever heard of or knew. He was one of the greatest lifeguards that ever lived. I know where he saved three people at one time, and once, four. He could sense anything going on in the water and see it before anyone else could. He’s a legend in the city of Galveston” (The Deaf American, 1974, p. 23).

In addition to life-saving, Colombo enjoyed endurance racing. In 1927, he swam in a race across the Gulf of Mexico – a fifteen-mile swim. Only he and his brother finished, as the others dropped out from jellyfish stings and exhaustion. Colombo’s time was 11.5 hours, over three hours ahead of his brother. He won all the distance races held in the Gulf of Mexico between 1929 and 1939.

LeRoy Colombo on the beach
LeRoy Columbo on the beach during the peak of his lifeguarding career. (Photo Credit: Jean F. Andrews., Retreived from Deaf in Prison Blog)

Proved Deaf People Can Be Great Lifeguards

After his hearing lost, Columbo struggled in local public school. He learned sign language and continued swimming in the indoor pool at the Texas School for the Deaf in Austin. He lived during a time of great prejudice towards deaf people and faced both poverty and discrimination. None of his hearing family or any of the hearing lifeguards that he worked with learned sign language. Yet, he didn’t let other people’s opinions or lack of support dictate what he could do. He loved the water and he loved saving lives.

One of Colombo’s greatest contributions, however, was as a living example that deaf people could work as lifeguards. He is cited in literature used in disputes about Deaf people becoming lifeguards, even though there is still discrimination based on fears a deaf lifeguard could not hear cries for help. Today, The American Red Cross allows Deaf people to hold this position, but the YMCA does not.

Others argue it was Colombo’s deafness that helped him to be such an acute and successful lifeguard. Some researchers have found deaf people have enhanced visual attention, visual perception, and motion detection skills. One hypothesis is Colombo wasn’t as distracted by the sounds of noisy seagulls, the crashing surf, or people laughing and shouting on the beach. He used his prowess and knowledge of the water, currents and riptides, to quickly recognize people in distress.

LeRoy Colombo on the beach
HIstorical marker in honor of Leroy Colombo in Galveston, Texas. (Photo Credit: Jean F. Andrews., Retreived from Deaf in Prison Blog)

Legacy

He retired from being a lifeguard at 62 because of a heart condition, but continued swimming in the Gulf of Mexico a mile a day in both summer and winter for 6 more years, up until a few weeks before he died at the age of 68.

Flags in many parts of Texas were lowered to half-mast when he died, he was honored in the Texas legislature with a resolution and moment of silence, and a plaque was erected in his honor at the Galveston beach where he patrolled for over forty years. Colombo is remembered today in an annual 5K LeRoy Colombo race held each summer in Galveston. In 2002, Colombo was inducted into the Texas School for the Deaf Athletic Hall of Fame. In 2006, a Texas legislature act enabled the unveiling of The Leroy Colombo Swim Center during the Texas School for the Deaf’s 115th birthday celebration. Some still say he was the "World’s Greatest Lifeguard."

More on Colombo

See this 2-part, in-depth biography:

Books:

Resources

Signing Savvy is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking signingsavvy.com to Amazon properties. That means Signing Savvy may contain affiliate links. If you make a purchase after clicking on an affiliate link, your cost will be exactly the same regardless, but Signing Savvy will automatically receive a small commission. Your support is greatly appreciated and helps us continue to improve Signing Savvy!

 

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About the Author

Marta Belsky Marta Belsky is a third generation ASL user. She has been teaching ASL for 30 years and enjoys sharing her native language with new users. Marta is on the Lansing Community College Interpreter Training Program Advisory Board and has also been a board member for the Michigan Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf and the Michigan Chapter of American Sign Language Teachers Association.

More about Marta  |  Articles by Marta

Signing Children’s Books: The Night Before Christmas

Learning Tips   |  Thursday, December 20, 2018

By John Miller

This article is part of our “Signing Children’s Books” series, which highlights children’s books and pairs them with pre-built Signing Savvy word lists to help you get started with learning and signing the vocabulary in the book. Reading and literacy is so important. By sharing these pre-built word lists, we hope to cut down on prep time for families that are just beginning to learn ASL and hope you can find more comfort in sharing literacy with our young deaf children.

Over the years that I have been teaching deaf and hard of hearing children, and even in the years since, I am often approached this time of year by parents or grandparents of young deaf children and asked, “How do you sign The Night Before Christmas?” 

Night Before Christmas

It’s a Christmas classic, but it was written in an Old English format, so the words are difficult to sign. Many struggle with whether to follow the classic words, exactly the way they are written on the page (for fear of not honoring a classic), or to sign it more conceptually correct in signs and terms that are easily understood by young children – it is a struggle anyone who reads the book has to tackle.

Extension Activities

I have done this book a few different ways. One approach I took with my upper elementary students that really worked out well was to take the lines from the book, verse by verse. I typed them up on a page or wrote them on the board, one sentence or phrase a day, and really dove into the meaning of what the author was saying. Then together, as a class, we decided how we wanted to sign the verse so that it was clearly understood. This allowed the students to really own the way the story was told. We then went over to the school where the young deaf children were, and did some storytelling with them and told the story through a little signing and acting. The children loved it!

Choosing Signs

Typically, the rule for words that don’t have signs, is you fingerspell them. For example, in The Night Before Christmas when it talks about “Mama in her 'kerchief,” you would fingerspell K-E-R-C-H-I-E-F. If you want to explain what ‘kerchief is, you could fingerspell K-E-R-C-H-I-E-F and then sign SCARF afterwards (or, however you think is best to describe a kerchief).  By fingerspelling, you aren’t changing the words or details of the original story. After paring the fingerspelling of the word with a sign the first time, you can then use the sign throughout the rest of the story when referencing that word. 

Fingerspelling all the words that don’t have signs, like kerchief, would mean fingerspelling much of this book. It would also be a more accurate and direct translation of the book. However, before you decide how this classic should be handled and how things will be signed, you first need to think about who your audience is (both who is telling the story and who is observing). My audience for this book has typically been young children, let’s say 1 year to 10 years old. My opinion is that these young children are more interested in the story and good storytelling than in receiving an accurate, direct translation. Therefore, I tend to focus on selecting signs that help deliver the main message, rather than staying razer-focused on providing a direct translation. It’s also important to remember that sometimes it is parents or grandparents with limited sign vocabulary or experience that want to sign this book. The goal is to share this Christmas classic with our young deaf children. Focus on the message of the story and have fun with it!

People may have different opinions of how they would want to sign the story, and that is fine. You can change things up based on your audience and your signing skills. Below is the Night Before Christmas in English word order using ASL signs.
 

The Night Before Christmas
NIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS

Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house…
NIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS HAPPEN ALL AROUND HOUSE

Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;
NOTHING MOVING MOUSE NOTHING

The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
SOCKS HANG NEAR CHIMNEY

In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there.
HOPE  SOON  SANTA ARRIVE

The children were nestled all snug in their bed,
CHILDREN ALL SLEEP IN BED

While visions of sugarplums danced in their heads,
DREAMING SWEETS CANDY

And Mama in her kerchief, and I in my cap,
MOM SCARF DAD HAT

Had just settled down for a long winter’s nap—
JUST LAY BED SLEEP

When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
SUDDENLY HAPPEN OUTSIDE LOUD NOISE

I sprang from the bed to see what was the matter,
I JUMP OUT BED SEE WHAT WRONG

Away to the window I flew like a flash,
QUICK GO WINDOW

Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash
OPEN (but both hands) OPEN-THE-WINDOW

The Moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow,
MOON SHINE NEW SNOW

Gave the luster of midday to objects below,
SHINE BRIGHT SAME DAYTIME

When, what to my wondering eyes should appear, 
HAPPEN APPEAR SEE

But a miniature sleigh and eight tiny reindeer,
SMALL SLEIGH AND EIGHT TINY REINDEER

With a little old driver, so lively and quick, I knew in a moment it must be St. Nick.
WITH SHORT OLD DRIVE EXCITED QUICK KNEW SANTA MUST

More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,
FAST SAME BIRDS REINDEER CAME

And he whistled, and shouted, and called by name:
SANTA WHISTLE SHOUT SAID NAME:

“Now Dasher! Now, Dancer! Now, Prancer and Vixen! On Comet! On, Cupid! On Donder and Blitzen!”
(you will need to fingerspell each name here unless you have pre-established sign names for each reindeer) NOW D-A-S-H-E-R NOW D-A-N-C-E-R NOW P-R-A-N-C-E-R NOW V-I-X-E-N GO C-O-M-E-T GO D-O-N-D-E-R ONWARD B-L-I-T-Z-E-N

“To the top of the porch! To the top of the wall!”
GO TOP PORCH WALL

“Now dash away! Dash away! Dash away all!”
GO GO GO

As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly
SAME DRY LEAVES WIND BLOW LIKE HURRICANE

When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky
THEY REINDEER FLY THROUGH SKY

So up to the housetop the coursers they flew,
UP TOP HOUSE REINDEER FLY

With a sleigh full of toys, and St. Nicholas, too.
SLEIGH FULL TOYS  SANTA TOO

And then, in a twinkling, I heard on the roof
HAPPEN I HEAR ON ROOF

The prancing and pawing of each little hoof.
REINDEER then gesture like reindeer lifting up and down their feet

As I drew my head and was turning around, Down the chimney St. Nicholas came with a bound.
HEAD MINE TURN LOOK SANTA COME DOWN CHIMNEY

He was dressed all in fur from his head to his foot,
SANTA DRESSED COMPLETE FUR

And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot.
CLOTHES SANTA DIRTY  spell A-S-H-E-S spell S-O-O-T

A bundle of toys he had flung on his back,
BIG BAG TOYS ON BACK

And he looked like a peddler just opening his pack.
LOOK-SAME OLD-MAN OPEN BAG

His eye, how they twinkled! His dimples, how merry!
EYES HIS TWINKLE (point to cheek to show where dimple is) MERRY

His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry!
CHEEK SAME ROSE, NOSE SAME CHERRY

His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,
LITTLE MOUTH SMILE

And the beard on his chin was white as the snow.
BEARD HIS COLOR WHITE SAME SNOW

The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth, And the smoke, it encircled his head like a wreath.
PIPE (bite down) TEETH, SMOKE (going around your head) SAME WREATH

He had a broad face and a little round belly that shook when he laughed, like a bowl full of jelly.
SANTA FACE WIDE, ROUND BELLY SHAKE (this would be better acted out like a big belly out the front and then shaking it up and down)

He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf, 
SANTA FAT HAPPY OLD ELF

And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself;
I LAUGH HAPPEN I SAW HIM

A wink of his eye and a twist of his head, Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread.
SANTA WINK (turn your head) I KNOW SAFE FEAR NONE

He spoke not a word, but went straight to work,
SANTA SAY NOTHING STARTED WORK WORK WORK

And filled all the stockings, then turned with a jerk,
FILL SOCKS QUICK (gesture like turning around)

And laying his finger aside of his nose, And gave a nod, up the chimney he rose.
(Touch your nose, nod head) UP CHIMNEY SANTA GO

He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle, And away they all flew like the down of a thistle.
SANTA IN SLEIGH JUMP, WHISTLE TO REINDEER, AWAY THEY GO

But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight---“Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!”
BUT I HEAR SANTA SAY, MERRY-CHRISTMAS TO ALL AND TO  ALL A GOOD NIGHT!
 

Get the Pre-Built Word List for this Book!

I hope that through this The Night Before Christmas pre-built word list you will feel confident to share this classic with your children.

Word List for The Night Before Christmas

View word list of ASL signs for the book The Night Before Christmas

Signing Savvy is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking signingsavvy.com to Amazon properties. That means Signing Savvy may contain affiliate links. If you make a purchase after clicking on an affiliate link, your cost will be exactly the same regardless, but Signing Savvy will automatically receive a small commission. Your support is greatly appreciated and helps us continue to improve Signing Savvy!

 

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Cooking Up Language with Signs: “Homemade” Double Chocolate, Candy Cane Cookies

Learning Tips   |  Wednesday, December 19, 2018

By John Miller

This article is part of our “Cooking Up Language With Signs” series, which features a recipe and accompanying sign language word list to get you started on an interactive cooking activity that is great for spicing up language learning at home or in the classroom.

What’s cookin’?

Today I’m cooking up "Homemade" Double Chocolate, Candy Cane Cookies. These cookies look like a million bucks and taste even better, yet they are so easy to make (you start with a cookie mix from a bag). They are fun to create with your kiddos as a gift for parents, teachers etc..

Double chocolate candy cane cookies

Betty Crocker makes a great tasting Double Chocolate Chunk cookie mix that comes in a bag and are very easy to make with just limited ingredients to add. You can find the cookie mix at many grocery stores. After making the cookies, I dip them in white chocolate / crème and crushed candy canes to transform them into an irresistible holiday treat that everyone loves.

Making the cookies

Recipe

Enjoy making these quick and easy holiday treats. Use the pre-built word list created to go along with the recipe to help you as you make this tasty recipe.

 "Homemade" Double Chocolate, Candy Cane Cookies

Ingredients:

Tools:

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Follow the directions on the package for the Betty Crocker Double Chocolate Chunk Mix and make the cookies. (The directions say to stir the cookie mix, oil, water, and egg in a medium bowl. Roll the cookie dough into round balls and then put in the oven and bake.)
  2. Once done baking, remove the cookies from the oven and let them cool. Remove the cookies from the pan and set aside.
  3. Unwrap candy canes and place in a Ziplock plastic bag (sometimes it helps to use 2 Ziplock plastic bags together so if you get a hole in the bag, the pieces won’t fall out). Crush the candy canes with a small hammer, or roll with a rolling pin.
  4. Melt white chocolate / crème in the microwave as directed on the package and dip the cooled cookies ½ way in. Lay the cookies on waxed paper or tin foil.  Before the chocolate cools completely, sprinkle with the candy cane pieces.
  5. Once all cooled, stack the cookies and tie them up with ribbon and a bow for a great looking gift!


Get the Pre-Built Word List for this Book!

I hope through the “Homemade” Double Chocolate, Candy Cane Cookies word list you will feel confident to cook up some language fun with your children. You can also bring up signs on the Signing Savvy Member App using the pre-built word list as you go through the recipe.

Word List for “Homemade” Double Chocolate, Candy Cane Cookies

View word list of ASL signs for Double Chocolate, Candy Cane Cookies

Signing Savvy is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking signingsavvy.com to Amazon properties. That means Signing Savvy may contain affiliate links. If you make a purchase after clicking on an affiliate link, your cost will be exactly the same regardless, but Signing Savvy will automatically receive a small commission. Your support is greatly appreciated and helps us continue to improve Signing Savvy!

 

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Signing Savvy Member App Updated to Version 2.6

Signing Savvy Member App Updated to Version 2.6

Site News   |  Thursday, December 13, 2018

By Jillian Winn

We just updated both the iOS and Android versions of the Signing Savvy Member App to version 2.6. The update modifies navigation through word lists and flash cards, based on user feedback. We moved the navigation controls to be above the video instead of below it. This reduces the chance that you accidentally tap on a tab while navigating. We also added "swipe gesture" support. That feature allows you to swipe left or swipe right to navigate through word lists and flash cards, in addition to using the arrow buttons. The new update also resolves some bugs. The update is recommended for all Signing Savvy members using the mobile app running iOS 9 or newer or Android v4.4 (KitKat) or newer.

If you have not used the Signing Savvy Member App, it is a great way to access Signing Savvy on your mobile devices in a highly streamlined fashion. It is a premium feature available only to Signing Savvy full members.

 

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Signing Children’s Books: Frosty the Snowman

Learning Tips   |  Wednesday, December 12, 2018

By John Miller

This article is part of our “Signing Children’s Books” series, which highlights children’s books and pairs them with pre-built Signing Savvy word lists to help you get started with learning and signing the vocabulary in the book. Reading and literacy is so important. By sharing these pre-built word lists, we hope to cut down on prep time for families that are just beginning to learn ASL and hope you can find more comfort in sharing literacy with our young deaf children.

This is another holiday classic! Frosty the Snowman is a song that was developed into a book and animated movie, that is shown on TV every year during the holiday season.

See Frosty the Snowman signed:

Frosty the Snowman

Choosing Signs

The first time you introduce the jolly snowman, you must fingerspell his name, but after that, you can set him up in space OR create an assigned sign name for him. You can discuss with the children what would be a good assigned sign name. I personally have used a right F handshape on the left side of the chest over the heart.

Don't hesistate to take some creative licensing with the "thumpetty, thump, thumps," and don't let it scare you that there isn't necessarily a sign for it, just have fun with it and think of Big Frosty running through the snow covered hills with the children.

Extension Activities

For a great recipe that goes with the theme of this book, see my article Cooking Up Language with Signs: Frosty the Snowman Oreo Truffles.

Get the Pre-Built Word List for this Book!

I hope that through this Frosty the Snowman pre-built word list you will feel confident to share this classic with your children and experience the magic of Frosty together!

Word List for Frosty the Snowman

View word list of ASL signs for the book Frosty the Snowman

Signing Savvy is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking signingsavvy.com to Amazon properties. That means Signing Savvy may contain affiliate links. If you make a purchase after clicking on an affiliate link, your cost will be exactly the same regardless, but Signing Savvy will automatically receive a small commission. Your support is greatly appreciated and helps us continue to improve Signing Savvy!

 

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