Deaf Sports Stars26th April 2015

Deaf Woman Attacks Life By Taking Opportunities in Both Hands

Born profoundly Deaf, Noelle Simmons' zest for life is an inspiration

by Sarah Lawrence

Looking around for inspirational Deaf people, it is easy to go to the high profile sports stars, leaders of Deaf organisations, political activists or successful business people, but sometimes inspiration can come from just getting on with things, embracing all that life has to offer, and doing your best for others. For me, Noelle Simmons is an inspiration because of the things she does day in, day out, a life that is all about doing her best for others.

Born profoundly deaf into a hearing family, Noelle has embraced deafness and simply made it a part of who she is. She is not a part of any Deaf community as such, although she does have long-standing Deaf friends from school, and yet despite not being a part of a community as such, she still does a lot to support Deaf organisations and other charities through sport.

Early in her life, Noelle showed sporting ability and keen to support that, her parents introduced her to swimming. Enjoying it and showing promise, her parents took her to Wimbledon Swimming Club where she went on to compete in lots of competitions. Placed in a Partial Hearing Unit (PHU) at the Holman Hunt Primary School in Fulham, Noelle enjoyed her early years in school. In addition to swimming, and enjoying the sport side of education most, she was also found to be good at running, high jump and PE. 

Noelle and KarenBetween 1972 and 1977 she went to the Nutfield Priory School for the Deaf. It was here that she was introduced to Deaf Sport, taking part in swimming and athletics competitions. With lots of specialist units for Deaf kids back then, there were more competitions specifically for them, encouraging participation in sport for all Deaf children, and giving them the opportunity to compete on a level playing field with other Deaf kids. Many a long-standing friendship was developed through these competitions.

Taking part in the Southern Deaf swimming gala in Stevenage, Noelle won some of the events. “I also remember a very long journey from Redhill to Leicester for the National Swimming Championships,” she recalled. “I was part of a winning relay team and also placed 2nd, 3rd and 4th in other events,” a quite remarkable achievement for a school without its won swimming pool and with students going to the public baths, once a week.

Competing in mainstream competitions, Noelle also went to the Reigate and Redhill District School Swimming Gala, where she was awarded a silver and bronze for Proficiency in Personal Survival.

Out of the pool, Noelle was also a talented runner and for three years, 1973 - 75, she went to the Southern Deaf School Sport Association Athletics meeting held at Crystal Palace. Competing in the 200 metres, high jump, long jump and relay, Noelle came 1st, 2nd or 3rd in all events. Following another long journey to Bradford for the National Athletic Championships for Deaf Children, Noelle placed 1st in the Junior Girl’s Long Jump.

Developing into a fine athlete, Noelle went on to compete in many Deaf events as well as in the mainstream, setting records for the 200m and in the relay.

On the 20th June 1977 and with many record breaking wins behind her, Noelle entered the Surrey County Athletic Championships at Motspur Park, where she became the first Deaf runner to take part in the 200m sprint. Sprinting faster and faster through the rounds, Noelle won the final in a time of 27.5. This was a performance that would see Noelle win a place in the British Team for the 1977 Deaf Olympics in Rumania. Sadly, with no financial support for Deaf athletes and unable to self fund for the cost of travel and accommodation, along with 100m runner Sally Machell, she had to turn down the opportunity to represent her country.

A gifted sports woman, Noelle was a member of the Surrey Athletics Club in Kingston between training in the Winter on the hills of Richmond Park and on the track during the Summer. However, as is the case with a lot of Deaf youngsters, Noelle didn’t just run, she also played football for Surbiton Deaf Club and squash for Sutton and Cheam against other clubs in Surrey and Kent.

Frighteningly, given the amount of sport and activities Noelle did, she said that after her daughter born she wanted to get fit!! Joining the nearby Epson and Ewell Harriers she started to turn her attention to road running, completing the London Marathon twice as well as other long distance races.

Taking her running talents onto the road, Noelle has been pounding the streets ever since. A reluctant long distance runner in the early stages, she now runs 5 and 10k runs for fun, and is building up a highly impressive list of race venues. It is through this long distance running lark, that she has started to raise money for Deaf causes and other charities that she holds dear.

Through a friend’s invitation to run in the 2010 Florence marathon, Noelle showed the value of coaching, her private running tutor Richard, teaching her how to run marathons properly, that coaching helping her to take an hour off her previous best time. Enjoying travel, Noelle took part in the Nice to Cannes race, running along one of the nicest and most colourful strips of coastline in the world. She also travels to Holland a lot to take part in races there.

Always looking to help others, Noelle volunteered as a Games Maker at the Aquatics Centre for the 2012 Paralympics, an experience that she greatly enjoyed and one which she considers to be one her best.

Whist Noelle takes her running seriously, especially the fund raising side that goes with it, she also runs for fun, the 10km 2013 Knacher Cracker in Bexhill on New Years Day 2013 being completed in a pirate’s outfit, with a hot soup and cheese and pickle bun awaiting the runners when they finished the race.

Adding cycling to her list of fund-raising activities, Noelle did the 33-mile Thames Bridge Bike Ride for the Stoke Association and then a difficult 3-day, 141 mile coast to coast ride from Whitehaven to Tynemouth, including hills as high as 1903ft!

Ticking off long distance runs in countries throughout Europe as though they are just items on a shopping list, you can tell that Noelle just loves the whole experience of visiting places to then slog through their streets for anything from 5kms to 26 miles. Vivacious in her recollections, Noelle described a half marathon In Tromos, Norway as, “An awesome race with tea lights along the icy pavements and cheerful supporters standing in the dark.” Me, I’d be gasping for air and over the moon to finish!

As well as running for fun, Noelle does a lot of fund-raising, and admirably, she does so for a range of causes. Asking her about it she said, “I fund raise for the NDCS, Stroke, Cystic Fibrosis & Children's Dreams, Royal Hospital for Neuro disability and Crohns. I am keen to support them as to me, they are all worthy causes.”

Reflecting on her considerable sporting life, Noelle found it sad that she had to miss out on the Deaflympics because Deaf athletes were completely unfunded. With only a marginal improvement since then, Noelle is of the opinion that more should be done to support Deaf Sport. That said, she is not an advocate of Deaf only sports events/clubs and has ambitions for the best Deaf sports stars to train and compete in the mainstream.

With no signs of slowing up, Noelle intends to remain active and taking her place on the start line of these events for many years to come. Having been with her current running club Wimbledon Windmilers for the last 9 years, this lady shows no signs of slowing down. “Age should not be a barrier,” she told me, “As long as you are healthy. Sport and fitness is important to me because I am still very competitive and like meeting people.”

Meeting famous runners Like Dame Kelly Holmes and Sir Roger Bannister through her involvement in these races, Noelle has gone through her sporting life without deafness being too much of a problem. Some coaches have not been as deaf friendly as others, but with the support and thoughtfulness of her team mates, she has just got on with it and still thrives in the mainstream as a result.

For me, Noelle is inspirational!


Article by Sarah Lawrence

posted in Deaf Sport / Deaf Sports Stars

26th April 2015