Deaf Sports Stars29th January 2014
6 Years Old Caleb, Deaf and Aiming for Formula One
Caleb McDuff is 6 years old. Deaf following an infection, he has been karting for years and aims to be the first deaf Formula One racing driver
Every six year old has ideas of what they want to be when they grow up. When I was six, I wanted to be a train driver, but I suspect that’s gone out of fashion with youngsters these days.
Six year old Caleb McDuff, from Cwmbran in South Wales, wants to be a racing driver when he grows up. There’s nothing too unusual in that you might think but Caleb’s specific ambition is to be the world’s first deaf Formula One racer.
Caleb could hear when he was born, passing his new born hearing tests, but his parents became concerned that there might be a problem when he was nine months old as his father, Ian, explains, “We noticed fluid coming from his ears so we took him straight to the out of hours surgery and they said it was glue ear, nothing to worry about, a majority of kids go through it. They told us not to worry, he would grow out of it.”
Eighteen months later, Caleb’s parents were aware that he was suffering hearing loss and, after he had grommets fitted, tests revealed that Caleb was indeed deaf. “His hair cells inside the cochlear had been damaged by the infection, so we are led to believe”, explains Ian, “and that is what caused it.”
Meanwhile, Caleb had developed a fascination with cars. “He had his first ride-on electric car when he was 18 months old”, says Ian. “He would sit in it and we would press the accelerator for him and he would steer it wherever he wanted to go.” And the interest in karting was a case of following in father’s footsteps, “I do a little bit of karting myself. I don’t compete, I do it for a bit of fun so Caleb would come with me on the weekend and then as soon as he could reach the pedals he wanted to have a go.”
Indeed, ask Caleb who his favourite racing driver is and his first answer is “Daddy”, although that is quickly followed by “Jenson Button”, while his favourite team is Ferrari.
It quickly became apparent that Caleb had a talent for driving the kart at speed although Ian says his deafness does make a difference when he is driving, “I can only imagine how it feels for him. The only way I can describe it is if you are walking down the street and someone comes from behind you when you don’t know they are there it startles you. So I can only imagine for him being on the track, if a quicker kart comes past him from nowhere it can be a bit of a surprise.”
But Caleb has not allowed his deafness to hold him back, developing different techniques to deal with his lack of hearing, “A lot of your perception of speed in a car comes from noise input, tyre noise and your engine”, explains Ian, “whereas Caleb doesn’t get that, so he really has to look at the scenery coming towards him and has to pick his points where he knows he has to start slowing down which I think racing drivers do anyway but it’s coming naturally to him. He has no choice but to do it.”
Caleb attends Nant Celyn school in Cwmbran where he is in a class mainly made up of hearing children, “There are 2 or 3 deaf children in his class”, says Ian, “and he has special one to one time but the majority of the time he is with the hearing children.”
He now has cochlear implants fitted and his speech is developing quickly although he also uses Sign Supported English (SSE), to communicate. Ian describes the effect of the implants as providing a representation of sound rather than giving Caleb his hearing back. “A normal person has 16000 channels of sound, whereas Caleb has got 22 so you can imagine the difference in quality.”
When Caleb is not in school there is a good chance you will find him at the local G-Force kart track near Pontypool. Ian says that the circuit management have been hugely supportive of Caleb, often opening the track just for him to practise. While the dark nights and winter weather have restricted his track time, Caleb is usually to be found driving each Saturday and Sunday and as the nights grow lighter he will be on track at least three evenings a week as well.
With the minimum age for competition being 6, up until now Caleb has had to content himself with practising but now he wants to do more. “The track gave him a trophy to encourage him”, explains Ian, “and since he’s had his one trophy he’s decided he wants more trophies.”
So on his sixth birthday the sport’s governing body, the Motor Sport Association or MSA, issued Caleb with his first competition license. “I was concerned because of the deafness that they were going to at least ask a lot of questions”, says Ian, “but it’s all gone straight through without an issue.”
Now Caleb is preparing to compete in a national championship for 6 to 8 year olds. The 7 round Bambino Tour will see Caleb and Ian travel as far afield as their local event at Llandow near Cowbridge to the Larkhall kart track in Scotland. The Bambino Tour is a development event that doesn’t have the young drivers racing directly against each either. Instead, Ian likens it to the qualifying procedure used in Formula One, “They get 10 minute slots to go out onto track and they have to set the fastest lap.”
With many of the drivers in the series in their second year of competitive racing, Ian views 2014 as a learning year for Caleb, “there will be a lot of new tracks for him,” he says. “Also, he’s not used to a lot of people there, which is going to be a new challenge for him but speaking to people who are in the know, I expect him to be midfield which will be a good start.”
Even at this level, motorsport can be expensive and Ian says he could not afford to run Caleb competitively at this level by himself. The result has been many hours spent writing letters and e-mails and making phone calls but those efforts have started to pay dividends with sponsorship deals from the GoCompare price comparison website and from Abergavenny based Motorcare motor factors. But the ‘lad and dad’ team are still looking for more support with a range of sponsorship packages available in return for cash or for products and services.
The plan is for Caleb to compete in the Championship for two years and beyond that, well Formula One is still a long way off but, as Ian puts it, “He says now that he loves Formula One and he wants to be a racing driver and if that’s what he wants to do I will do everything that I can to support him. I spend hours every day just replying to e-mails and chasing things up, doing what I can to help him. If that’s where he wants to go I’d love to see him reach the top. Why not?”
However, Ian’s overall aspirations for his son are summed up quite simply, “My hope is that he does whatever he wants to do.” Meeting Caleb, the impression you get, even at this young age, is that he may well have the drive and determination to achieve whatever he wants to as well.
You can follow Caleb’s racing exploits through Silence Racing on Facebook and Twitter. If you are interested in supporting his racing you can contact Ian by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org
Article by Peter Hughes - Sports Writer
posted in Deaf Sport / Deaf Sports Stars
29th January 2014