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Blog Articles by: Marta Belsky

Living Loud: Mandy Harvey – Singer, Ambassador, and Author

Living Loud: Mandy Harvey – Singer, Ambassador, and Author

Deaf Culture   |  Sunday, January 27, 2019

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.

Mandy Harvey
Mandy Harvey (Photo Credit: Noam Galai, Retreived from Episode 5: Interview with Deaf Singer Mandy Harvey)

Mandy Harvey was born hearing, but her life took an unexpected turn when she became deaf at the age of eighteen. As a child, Harvey was passionate about music and when she began college she decided to follow her dream to pursue Music Education. However, when Harvey lost her hearing she also lost music, a huge part of her identity. In the ten years since Harvey became deaf, she has overcome emotional and spiritual obstacles and found new ways to pursue her dreams. In 2017, Harvey shocked the world with her singing on the television show America’s Got Talent and has since written a book about her experiences in life. She has inspired millions of people with her story and her music.

Growing Up: A Passion for Music

Mandy Harvey was born in Cincinnati, Ohio in 1988 and her family moved to Colorado when she was a young girl. Throughout her childhood and into her teenage years she was passionate about music. She participated in church choir starting at the age of four, and continued in music through high school. In high school, Harvey was in five school choirs, singing with a wide vocal range from tenor to high soprano parts. In an interview with Justin Miller for the Real Talk TV Show, Harvey described herself as a "strong voice in the choir, but not one to ever put [herself] in the spotlight." Although, she wasn’t much of a soloist in high school, her passion led her to pursue Vocal Music Education in college. She specifically wanted to teach jazz because of the emotion she would be able to create in others.2 Harvey attended Colorado State University. During her first semester, she began to realize that she was having trouble hearing.3

In Denial About Deafness

Harvey was born with Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome which is a connective tissue disorder that caused her hearing to deteriorate during her first year in college.1 At first, when she noticed a change in her ability to hear, Harvey wrote it off as an ear infection or a perforated ear drum. She didn’t want to believe the severity of the problem. Harvey had her hearing tested and the results showed by that time she had already lost 30 decibels of her hearing. Frequent doctor visits over the course of the next nine months showed a steady decrease in her hearing. By Christmas of that year, Harvey had lost 55-60 decibels, making her legally deaf. She was fitted with hearing aids. Harvey still held on to the hope that her music dreams could remain intact. However, the realization of her deafness hit her hard and fast one day in her Music Theory class.2

The class was set up to take a test in which the students had to listen to the piano notes and record what was being played. Harvey was poised with pencil in hand waiting to begin the test, when she looked around and saw that all the other students were writing on their papers. Harvey sat there, unable to hear the test that was being given and one by one the students stood up and walked out of the classroom, leaving her sitting alone.2

Harvey dropped the Music Education program, changed majors, and took different classes. Harvey described the time as a "whirlwind" because of how fast things were changing and she had not yet felt the true impact of the situation. She said she was "still holding on to hope."2 During that transition time, she was walking on a sidewalk and she was hit by a bike. The biker was coming up behind her and had been calling out to her that he was passing on the left, but when she didn’t hear him she got hit and her hearing aid was crushed. This was when the realization truly hit her that her hearing loss was real and permanent. "I lost myself that day," Harvey said in the interview.2

Finding Hope: Discovering ASL, the Deaf Community, and Rediscovering Music

After her first year of college, Harvey moved back home. She said, "I would say it felt like I fell down a really dark well."2 She couldn’t see any brightness in her future and she didn’t know who she was anymore. "I had fed into all of the voices that were around me, which were saying that if you can’t hear, you can’t do music, and I allowed them to convince me that that was true and so I gave up on music. I didn’t even sing in the shower for a year and a half."4 Her own identity was intertwined with her life of being a musician and so when that was taken away from her, she felt all was lost.

This darkness took over Harvey’s life for quite a while, but gradually she pulled out of it. She began taking American Sign Language classes, and her sister even skipped her senior year of high school so that they could take classes together. Finding a way to communicate was a crucial step for Harvey to reform her life. She then started to get involved with the Deaf community, made friends, and found people with similar stories to her own. This is what gave her the confidence to allow music back into her life.2

Harvey’s father wanted her to play guitar with him, and she agreed to try. They were able to push aside their inability to communicate with one another and just play together. When Harvey’s father suggested they try to learn a new song, she didn’t think she would be able to, but they pulled up the sheet music anyway. By humming into a small guitar tuner, Harvey was able to see if she was hitting the correct pitches. Learning the song was a long process, but when she sang it through, it brought her father to tears. Harvey didn’t believe him when he said it was good so she recorded the song and sent it to a voice coach, someone she knew would be honest. The voice coach responded that she thought the song had been recorded before Harvey lost her hearing. When the voice coach learned the recording was recent, she insisted that Harvey come back and begin taking voice lessons again.2

Mandy Harvey on America's Got Talent show.
Mandy Harvey on America's Got Talent (Photo Credit: NBC, America's Got Talent, Season 12 (2017). Retreived from Mandy Harvey: Deaf Singer Earns Simon's Golden Buzzer With Original Song - America's Got Talent 2017)

Harvey soon found herself with a slot performing in a local jazz club. She developed her own techniques in being a musician. Harvey takes off her shoes so that she can feel the beat vibrating through the floor. At first, before she became comfortable, she stood at the piano using her hands to feel the vibrations, but gradually she stepped away from the piano.2 She used visual tuners to help her know she was in key and would put her hand on her throat to find where the vibration was the strongest for each note. She would do scales and run through patterns again and again. She can also feel the vibrations of her ukulele when holding it against her body. 4

Her singing career began to flourish, leading to multiple albums, and a tour.1 In 2017, Harvey was a competitor in season 12 of the America’s Got Talent television show. She wowed America and the judges and took 4th place in the competition.

Controversy: Promoting Oralism vs. Deaf Can Movement

During the competition, there was some controversy in the Deaf community because Harvey was "promoting a hearing activity," and she still continues to receive some backlash from certain individuals. They accuse her of promoting oralism and she has even received death threats.Harvey says it’s a very small group of loud voices that are critical and most of the deaf people she has met love what she’s doing.4

Harvey explains she understands the criticism is rooted in an effort to protect Deaf culture. "The Deaf community has been so oppressed for such a long time, and it hasn’t been until recently that we’ve even acknowledged that sign language is a language. In fact, I’m pretty sure only 44 states even accept it as a foreign language, which is ridiculous. But, to have a language, to be proud of your culture, it’s survival. And it’s important." So because she talks and she sings, some criticize her for doing hearing activities, and view it as shunning the deaf community and saying they need to also talk or sing. However, that is not Harvey’s point of view at all.4

“ Deaf [people] can do anything that they want to do, they can do any job. They can do any activity, they can sing, they can paint, they can climb mountains, they can have kids, they can be teachers, they can be CEOs of major companies. It doesn’t matter.
     - Mandy Harvey
Singer, Ambassador, & Author

When her hearing loss progressed, she felt loss, like she didn’t belong in either the Deaf or the hearing worlds. She says it was learning American Sign Language that really opened the door for communication for her and being part of the Deaf community, feeling a sense of belonging. Harvey says, "There’s so many different forms of being deaf… being deaf doesn’t mean that you can’t speak, being deaf doesn’t mean that you don’t like music, being deaf doesn’t mean that you have to live in one small bubble."4

She also explains this philosophy is part of the "Deaf Can" movement that has been going on for the last 15 years. The movement advocates, "deaf can do anything that they want to do, they can do any job. They can do any activity, they can sing, they can paint, they can climb mountains, they can have kids, they can be teachers, they can be CEOs of major companies. It doesn’t matter."4

Following her Passion


Mandy Harvey's book: Sensing the Rhythm: Finding my Voice in a World Without Sound

Harvey’s dedication to following her passion has inspired countless people around America and the world. She continues to sing and encourage others. She is an Ambassador for No Barriers USA, where she travels the country to encourage others, heighten awareness, and challenge stereotypes.5

She now has a book called Sensing the Rhythm: Finding my Voice in a World Without Sound which is about life lessons she has learned. “What story do you think God is trying to tell through your life?” Harvey was asked in an interview with Real Talk TV Show. She responded, "I think that it’s pretty simple, that bad things happen and chaos is all around us, but we have to just keep walking down the path, just keep going forward. That you have such a limited amount of time on Earth and it’s messy and it’s broken and you’re surrounded by people who are also messy and broken and we’re supposed to encourage each other, hold each other up."

Books:

Music:

Resources

  1. Rose, B. (2017, November 15). The singer sent death threats from the ‘deaf community’. BBC News. Retrieved from http://www.bbc.com/news/disability-41850498

  2. [TheRealtalktvshow] (2017, February 17). Mandy Harvey Interview [Video File]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mUb61GAr8dg

  3. Winners of the VSA International Young Soloists Competition: 2011 Award Recipients. The Kennedy Center. Retrieved from http://education.kennedy-center.org/education/vsa/programs/soloists_past_recipients.cfm?soloist=soloists2011

  4. Ruderman, Jay. (2018, December 3). Episode 5: Interview with Deaf Singer Mandy Harvey [Audio Podcast, with transcript]. All Inclusive with Jay Ruderman (a podcast on inclusion, innovation and social justice). Ruderman Family Foundation. Podcast retrieved from http://rudermanfoundation.org/podcast/episode-5-interview-with-deaf-singer-mandy-harvey/

  5. Harvey, Mandy. Speaking - Mandy Harvey. Mandy Harvey website. Retrieved from https://mandyharveymusic.com/speaking/

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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

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.

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

Living Loud: Charles

Living Loud: Charles "CJ" Jones – Comedian, Actor, Producer, and Director

Deaf Culture   |  Tuesday, October 2, 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.

CJ Jones and Ansel Elgort in Baby Driver
CJ Jones and Ansel Elgort in "Baby Driver" (2017) (Photo Credit: Sony Pictures, Photo by Wilson Webb - © 2017 TriStar Pictures, Inc. and MRC II Distribution Company L.P., Retreived from IBDb)

Named Charles Paul Jones at birth, Jones, who prefers to go by CJ, claims that his life is all about "who I am, not what I am." He does not want his deafness to be his claim to fame. His journey in the world of comedy is fast becoming his legacy. You may recognize him from the 2017 summer hit "Baby Driver," which made CJ the first black, deaf actor in an international blockbuster. To both the deaf and hearing worlds, CJ Jones brings hope and compassion for our future.

The Flourishing Student

CJ is the son of Deaf parents and has 6 hearing siblings. His parents and all of his brothers and sisters used American Sign Language. At the early age of seven, CJ contracted spinal meningitis. This major illness left CJ with a profound hearing loss. To further his education, CJ transferred to Missouri School for the Deaf (MSD), moving away from his entire family. His deaf father, Clarence, fought the Missouri school system to get CJ a place in the all deaf school when they were told CJ’s residual hearing was too good to qualify for MSD. CJ said his dad, "showed a lot of love and support, encouraging us to have the best education." CJ excelled in the communication rich environment at MSD, which taught in his native American Sign Language. After graduating high school, CJ continued his education by enrolling at the National Technical Institute for the Deaf (NTID) in Rochester, New York. He immediately joined and then later toured for two years with NTID’s National Theater for the Deaf, which started him on his way to popularity and becoming nationally known for his hilarious and heart-warming comedy routines.

The Traveling Comedian

CJ Jones One-Man Comedy Show
CJ Jones One-Man Comedy Show

CJ remembers while he was growing up, he was always a comedian, making everyone laugh and feel at ease no matter who and where they were in life. Now as an adult, traveling around the world, he says things are still the same. He likes making people smile. His good-natured ways and high-spirited personality has set him up for a profession in entertainment. People, both deaf and hearing, are drawn to his fast-paced humor and quick-witted performances, poking fun, and using his graciousness and passion for communicating through humor and American Sign Language.

The Restless Entertainer

CJ Jones in See What I’m Saying
CJ Jones in “See What I’m Saying: The Deaf Entertainers Documentary" (2009) (Photo Credit: IMDb, See What I’m Saying: The Deaf Entertainers Documentary)

CJ has been in the business of entertaining for the past thirty-five years, spreading his message that being different does not mean being less worthwhile. He developed 3 one-man shows and is the only Deaf African American comedian that has traveled all over the world. He is also one of only four Deaf performers showcased in the 2009 documentary "See What I’m Saying: The Deaf Entertainers Documentary." He appeared in PBS’s "Through Deaf Eyes" and has had roles in several television shows, including Cold Case, A Different World, Frasier, and Sesame Street. He co-wrote and directed all six of the children’s fairytales in the "Once Upon A Sign" television series. Undoubtedly, these television roles were his best promotional roles. Movies are another claim to CJ Jones’ fame with roles in "Baby Driver," HULU’s "Castle Rock" and the upcoming 2020, Avatar Sequels.

“I think I have made an impact on the deaf community through my humor, experience, and share my success by overcoming obstacles and discrimination. I can prove that anything is possible. It has nothing to do with being deaf or black or any disability and color, it has to do with passion to do greater things in life!”
     - CJ Jones

The Inspirational Role Model

When looking at his life, CJ is himself amazed at all he has accomplished in his sixty-eight years. From childhood of being black and deaf, he has never had a problem expressing himself and turned that ability into a profession of outstanding success. He is adamant about American Sign Language being his connection to his profession and communicating to the world. He is proud of the fact he has performed in thousands of schools, theaters, and universities.

This quote from CJ says it all, "I think I have made an impact on the deaf community through my humor, experience, and share my success by overcoming obstacles and discrimination. I can prove that anything is possible. It has nothing to do with being deaf or black or any disability and color, it has to do with passion to do greater things in life!"

Resources

 

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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

Living Loud: Ella Mae Lentz - Poet, Educator, and Advocate

Living Loud: Ella Mae Lentz - Poet, Educator, and Advocate

Deaf Culture   |  Friday, April 20, 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.

Ella Mae Lentz is a Deaf American poet, author, educator and advocate. She was born on May 5, 1954 in Berkeley, California to two Deaf parents and has one Deaf brother. In 1971, Lentz graduated from the California School for the Deaf in Berkeley (now known as the California School for the Deaf in Freemont), and went on to Gallaudet University. She graduated from Gallaudet in 1975 with degrees in English and Drama. 

ASL Poet, Performer, and Advocate

Lentz is widely known for her ASL poetry. Many people have studied her poems and have even performed them as reproductions. Some of her original poetry has been published in the video “The Treasure: Poems by Ella Mae Lentz.” A few examples of her poems can be found on YouTube, including The Door (1995), The Rosebush (2008), and To A Hearing Mother (2010).

Lentz was on a talk show titled “Silent Perspectives” in 1974, on television in the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) children’s show “Rainbow’s End” in 1979, a Milwaukee Repertory reproduction of the movie “Children of a Lesser God” in 1980 as character Sarah Norman, and on video with Baker and Cokely’s ASL curriculum commonly referred to as “The Green Books.”

“Instead of looking at what deaf people can’t do, we need to look at ourselves as people who are visual, and who have a community, we need to look at ourselves in a very positive view to confirm who we are as deaf individuals.”
     - Ella Mae Lentz

Lentz has also done hundreds of presentations around the country on ASL, Deaf Culture and Deafhood. At one presentation, Lentz is quoted as saying “Instead of looking at what deaf people can’t do, we need to look at ourselves as people who are visual, and who have a community, we need to look at ourselves in a very positive view to confirm who we are as deaf individuals.” This quote is also representative of her many works of poetry, which focus on bringing Deafhood to the forefront in mainstream American culture as well as Deaf Culture to bolster a sense of community and pride associated with being Deaf. She helped to found the Deafhood Foundation in February 2009 and continues to be on the board of directors. Her goal is to encourage people (hearing and Deaf) to look at Deafhood as an identity based on visual capacity rather than the inability to hear. Lentz also promotes examining traditional definitions of community, ability, relationships and communication that at the same time challenge perspectives of American history related to Deaf people and culture. For example, her interpretation of the National Anthem takes a very direct and personal stance toward American Deaf people that places the focus on Deaf struggles and victories in American history.

Terminology

Deafhood - Deafhood is a Deaf person's unique personal journey to discover and understand themselves as a Deaf person. The term was coined by Dr. Paddy Ladd and was described in an article in Gallaudet Today in 1993. Ladd later wrote a book on the subject in 2003, called Understanding Deaf Culture: In Search of Deafhood.


Educator

Although she is a well-known ASL performer and author, teaching has always been at the core of Lentz’s career and influence. She has over 30 years of experience in academia. She has done research on ASL at many institutions, including: Gallaudet, Northeastern University in Boston, Salk University in San Diego, and the University of California in San Francisco. She also has taught at multiple institutions; Gallaudet University, Ohlone College in Freemont, California and Berkeley City College until her retirement in 2007.

Lentz has developed educational and training material for ASL such as: the National Consortium of Programs for the Training of Sign Language Instructors (NCPTSLI) and the Signing Naturally curriculum series. The NCPTSLI came as a result of a Federal grant program with the National Association of the Deaf with the goal of upgrading ASL instruction, and for two years, Lentz developed and tested curricula and recruited and trained instructors. The Signing Naturally curriculum series started with a three year grant through Funds for Improvement of Post Secondary Education to develop curriculum for teaching ASL as a second language. Her work on the Signing Naturally curriculum continues today.

Advocacy Continues

After retiring from teaching, Lentz formed the company ASL Presents in 2007, which offers services in coaching, consulting, presentations, performances, and ASL and Deaf Culture curriculum. She continues to be an advocate for ASL, Deaf Culture, and Deafhood.

Lentz is married to her longtime partner, Judy D. Gough. The couple has raised five children, of whom the youngest is Deaf. They also have ten grandchildren, of which three are Deaf. They love animals and have had dogs, cats, llamas, a goat, rabbits, rats, a mouse, and iguanas.

For more information on what Lentz is currently working on, visit the ASL Presents website.

Resources

 

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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

Living Loud: Lou Ferrigno – The Incredible Hulk of acting, bodybuilding, fitness training, and motivational speaking

Living Loud: Lou Ferrigno – The Incredible Hulk of acting, bodybuilding, fitness training, and motivational speaking

Deaf Culture   |  Monday, October 24, 2016

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.

Lou Ferrigno is an actor, retired professional bodybuilder, fitness trainer, motivational speaker, and deputy sheriff.1 He is most well-known for portraying The Incredible Hulk, but has been in over 35 movies and 65 television shows,4 won the bodybuilding titles of Mr. America and Mr. Universe (twice), and is a Guinness Book world record holder.1

Growing Up: Challenged by Hearing Loss

Lou Ferrigno as a child
Lou Ferrigno as a child. (Photo Credit: Lou Ferrigno Website)
Louis Jude “Lou” Ferrigno was born in Brooklyn, New York on November 9, 1951. Soon after he was born he suffered from a series of ear infections, which caused him to lose 75% of his hearing.1 This hearing loss was not diagnosed until Ferrigno was 3 years old and he began wearing hearing aids at age 4. The hearing aids only helped improve his hearing marginally. He learned to understand what others were saying by lipreading. He said because “aids weren’t as advanced in those days, I developed very defective speech. That was harder to deal with than the hearing loss, because people assumed I was dumb when they heard me talk. I had difficulty making myself understood. That’s why I didn’t talk much, just enough to get what I needed.” 3

He went to public school and said his dad “made sure that at home I spoke the best I could, and he never gave me special attention. He treated me as though I was normal and my brother and sister accepted me that way. Dad was determined that I be normal, even if I wasn’t. That’s why I had to work twice as hard at everything.” 3

He couldn’t hear when he was in class, but was too shy to ask any of his teachers if he could sit up front where he could hear and didn’t let anyone know about the problem. He tried to isolate himself from his classmates. 3 “They used to call me ‘deaf Louie,’ ‘deaf mute,’ because of my hearing and because of the way I sounded.”5 He was teased and bullied, sometimes resulting in schoolyard fights that he would lose.7

Getting Pumped Up: Inspired and Determined to Be Strong

He was skinny, small, and introverted.5 He turned to comic books for comfort. “I felt devastated and emotionally insecure. I would just read the comics and it would give me inspiration and hope.”7 Superman and The Incredible Hulk were his favorites. After pretending to be Superman by putting on a red blanket as a cape and jumping off of the second story of his apartment, he hit the cement hard and decided Superman wasn’t his favorite anymore.5 He thought of the Hulk as “the green Santa Claus” because of his instinct to protect the good.7 Ferrigno also liked the Hulk because he was obsessed with the feeling of being powerful.5 “I wanted to be so strong, so invincible so I could command the same power the Hulk does... and that’s how that connection began.”7 He then made it his mission to be strong as well.

Lou Ferrigno at bodybuilding competition
Lou Ferrigno at a bodybuilding competition with Arnold Schwarzenegger. (Photo Credit: Lou Ferrigno Website)
At age 13 Ferrigno started weight training. Bodybuilder and Hercules star, Steve Reeves, was one of his role models.1 Before he could afford his own set of barbells, he made one out of a broomstick and cement weights.2 Ferrigno won his first major bodybuilding titles as Mr. America and Mr. Universe in 1973, at the age of 21. His Mr. Universe title was, and still is to this day, a Guinness Book World record for the youngest person to win the Mr. Universe title. Ferrigno competed for the Mr. Olympia competition in 1974 and got second place.1

Ferrigno worked throughout his early bodybuilding career as a sheet metal worker in a Brooklyn factory. He did not enjoy this dangerous work. He left after a friend and co-worker accidentally cut off his hand. Ferrigno left the competition circuit for a period that included a brief stint as a defensive lineman for the Toronto Argonauts in the Canadian Football League. However, he had never played football and was cut after two games.1

Living a Childhood Dream: Becoming The Incredible Hulk

In 1977 television producers started to seek the right person to portray the larger-than-life comic book superhero, “The Incredible Hulk.” They were interested in Ferrigno for the part because he was the biggest professional bodybuilder at that time with his 6’5”, 285 lb. frame. When Ferrigno heard about the role he said, “It’s mine,” and wanted the part more than anything.5 He auditioned for the part of the green-skinned Goliath and he won it over another well-known bodybuilder, Arnold Schwarzenegger.1

The Incredible Hulk turning over a car.
The Incredible Hulk turning over a car. (Photo Credit: CBS, The Incredible Hulk, Season 2: Episode 3 "Ricky" [Originally Aired: October 6, 1978])
Ferrigno was a hulk in real life as well. He has told the story of moving a parked car out of its spot and onto the street so he could make room to park his Volkswagen.2 Another account happened while on set of The Incredible Hulk, where Ferrigno worked long, 16 hour days. He was supposed to flip a car with the aid of a steel cable lift, but it had broken. He was exhausted and annoyed about still being on set at 4 a.m. and didn’t want to wait for a new cable. He told them to start shooting and tilted the car up off the road and pushed it down the embankment, and that was a wrap for that shoot!7

Ferrigno continued playing the Hulk role until 1981. The Incredible Hulk was a huge ratings success and spawned several TV movies after the initial TV series completed. 1

After playing The Incredible Hulk for 5 years, Ferrigno went on to be in over 35 movies and 65 television shows. He followed in the steps of his role model Steve Reeves and starred in Hercules (1983). He has played himself in Surge of Power (2004), I Love You, Man (2009), and the CBS sitcom The King of Queens (2002-2007). He was a competitor on reality TV show The Celebrity Apprentice (2012), where he raised $50,000 for his charity, the Muscular Dystrophy Association. He has also been in multiple documentaries, including Pumping Iron (1977) and Stand Tall (1997). He has performed as the Hulk in 6 TV shows and voiced the Hulk in the movies The Incredible Hulk (2008), The Avengers (2012), and Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015).4

Today: Still Focused on Health, Conquering Challenges, and Being a Real-Life Hero

Ferrigno family
The Ferrigno Family: "The First Family of Bodybuilding" (Photo Credit: Lou Ferrigno Website)
Ferrigno is married to psychotherapist Carla Green, who also was his manager. She later became a personal trainer herself. They live in California and have three children – Shanna, Lou Jr., and Brent. Fitness has always been a family activity and now that their children are grown up, they are also involved in the health and fitness industry. They call themselves “The First Family of Bodybuilding.” Ferrigno has been a personal trainer for Michael Jackson, Mickey Rourke, Chuck Norris, and others. He continues to do private training, as does his children Lou Jr. and Shanna. Ferrigno believes the key to health is a balance between mind, body, and spirit. Together, he and his daughter Shanna started Ferrigno FIT – a brand and community focused on healthy living.1, 8

Ferrigno continues to be a motivational speaker and has been a spokesperson for the Better Hearing Institute for 25 years and a supporter of the Starkey Hearing Foundation. He tells others to try being the best of themselves in life, no matter what problems they might face along the way.2 He says his hearing loss presented him with a challenge in life and his journey has been filled with ups and downs, but you can’t be a quitter. “I believe the maxim that you only get out of life what you put into it. I found my courage to persevere because I don’t believe in defeat. I am a survivor, and I love challenges. I always say either yes or no, never maybe. And I don’t use the word hope. I either do it, or I don’t do it; I don’t hope to do it.”3

"I don’t use the word hope. I either do it, or I don’t do it; I don’t hope to do it."

  - Lou Ferrigno

Ferrigno on duty
Lou Ferrigno, San Luis Obispo County Sheriff Deputy. (Photo Credit: Lou Ferrigno Website)
Ferrigno has joined forces with several law enforcement agencies, including becoming a reserve sheriff deputy for Los Angeles County, California in 2006, a volunteer member of the sheriff posse for Maricopa County, Arizona in 2010, and a reserve peace officer for the San Luis Obispo County sheriff’s office in 2012. Ferrigno has dedicated 20 hours a month to the San Luis Obispo County sheriff’s office since 2012. It’s not an honorary post. Ferrigno attended the police academy in southern California, is certified, and has police authority. Ferrigno said, “I'm very happy to be a real-life hero, protecting life and property.”6

Resources

  1. About Ferrigno. Ferrigno Ferrigno. Retrieved 10/17/2016 from http://louferrigno.com/pages/about-us
  2. Borrelli, Anthony. (2010, April 22). ‘Hulk” motivates SUNY Cortland students: Strongman speaks to audience of 400 about his career, making most of what you have. Cortland Standard. Retrieved 10/17/2016 from http://www.cortlandstandard.net/articles/04222010n.html
  3. Ferrigno, Ferrigno. (1981, February 9). No Longer Silenced by Hearing Loss, the Hulk Debuts in a Speaking Role. People Magazine. Retrieved 10/17/2016 from http://people.com/archive/no-longer-silenced-by-hearing-loss-the-hulk-debuts-in-a-speaking-role-vol-15-no-5/
  4. Filmography. Ferrigno Ferrigno. Retrieved 10/17/2016 from http://louferrigno.com/pages/filmography
  5. Ferrigno Ferrigno. Oprah: Where are they now? Retrieved 10/17/2016 from http://www.wherearetheynow.buzz/first-look-how-lou-ferrigno-became-the-incredible-hulk/
  6. (2014, November 21). Ferrigno Ferrigno: Volunteer reserve SLO County sheriff's deputy. KSBY NBC 6. Retrieved 10/17/2016 from http://www.ksby.com/story/28680324/lou-ferrigno-volunteer-reserve-slo-county-sheriffs-deputy
  7. Pioneers of Television: Ferrigno Ferrigno. Public Broadcasting Service (PBS). Retrieved 10/17/2016 from http://www.pbs.org/wnet/pioneers-of-television/pioneering-people/lou-ferrigno/
  8. ‘The Incredible Hulk’ Ferrigno Ferrigno on Marriage and Family [video]. Huffington Post. Retrieved 10/17/2016 from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/01/29/lou-ferrigno-bullied-bodybuilding-hulk_n_4676191.html

Top Graphic Photo Source: Demolition Man. (2013, September 24). Lou Ferrigno: The Incredible Legend [Video]. YouTube. Retrieved 10/17/2016 from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dQJCpKwbqWU

 

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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.

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