Laura Chapman finished instructing and playing for the day at Columbus State University's tennis camp earlier this month and paused to explain the significance of being selected to participate in the 2013 Deaflympics.
Beyond the honor of representing the United States on a world stage, beyond the thrill of competing against other elite international athletes, Chapman cherishes the chance to revel in a more universal feeling: being considered "normal."
Because from July 26 through Aug. 3 in Sofia, Bulgaria, where Chapman will be among more than 4,000 athletes from more than 70 countries vying for medals in 16 sports, her disability won't be unusual at all.
"I can be just Laura there," she said with a smile. "I won't be Laura the hearing-impaired girl."
Chapman, a rising redshirt junior at CSU and a 2010 Hardaway High School graduate, is deaf in her right ear and has 50 percent hearing in her left ear, which is increased to 85 percent with a hearing aid. Doctors aren't certain whether she was born with her disability or whether her hearing loss resulted from a severe fever at 3 months old, said her mother, Julie. But this much is clear: Since a divorce made Julie a single mother with 1-year-old Laura, she raised her daughter to think possibility instead of disability.
"It's made her work harder," said Julie, a fifth-grade teacher at Clubview Elementary School, a few blocks from CSU. "Because she has trouble hearing, she inquires more. For a while, she used to be more timid about it, but now it's made her more outgoing."
Even constructively aggressive, Laura admitted with a laugh. She had been shy about speaking up when she thought opponents might be taking advantage of her disability. Now, however, she doesn't hesitate to question a line call or the score.
"Being in college, I'm not going to put up with stuff like that," she said. "I mean, it's so much more competitive now, so I'm not going to take it because I want to help my team."
Chapman sure helped her team this past season as a full-scholarship player after transferring back home from North Georgia, where she was on partial scholarship. She went 18-6 while playing No. 4 singles and 18-7 in doubles with teammates Olivera Jokic as the Lady Cougars compiled a 22-4 record and reached the NCAA Division II Tournament Round of 16 for the fifth time in program history.
"She's just a good person," said CSU tennis coach Evan Isaacs, "a down-to-earth kid who does amazing things on the court."
And her perseverance inspires her teammates.
"She's very spiritual," Isaacs said. "Her faith is so important to her. She kind of has a calming effect on the whole team. If other players are having problems, she listens to them."
So the hearing-impaired player is appreciated for her listening.
"The Lord has given me these talents, and I want to use them to the best of my ability for good," Laura said. "I've had so many people say I don't know how you can be so outgoing and enjoy life, but I know other people have influenced me, so I want to do the same for others.
"Life isn't always wonderful, but you can make it better if you have a good attitude."
HOW TO HELP
Columbus State University tennis player and Hardaway High School graduate Laura Chapman is raising money to help pay for her trip to Bulgaria and compete in the 2013 Deaflympics. For the link to donate online, click on this story at ledger-enquirer.com.