While most of the world keeps its eyes locked on London and the Olympic games that are occurring there, a different kind of Olympic games took place to the southeast in Anakara, Turkey.
The United States Deaflympics team, from mid- to late July, competed in the 22nd Deaflympics with a member of the Georgia State women’s soccer team. Junior Rebecca Toler, who transferred to Georgia State from Tennesse Tech after the 2011 season, played goalkeeper for the United States. The Americans prevailed over Russia in the final match 1-0 and went home with a gold medal. But the road to becoming the best in the world was not easy for the team members, Toler included.
Rebecca Lauren Toler was born deaf. Not 100 percent deaf, but with 55 decibles lost in her best ear, which is the minimum for being considered deaf. At age three, she was diagnosed, but since neither her parents nor her older sister had hearing loss, she was brought up in the “hearing world.” Toler never learned sign language, but was giving hearing aids and attended speech therapy classes. Toler eventually had a younger brother, who was also diagnosed as deaf.
School was never easy for Toler. She always had to sit in front of the class, be given a copy of the notes and required extra time for exams and tests. However, none of this deterred her. Toler said it just gave her more motivation to be on the same level as everyone else. In her last three semesters in college, Toler has been on the Dean’s List and had at least a 3.0 GPA.
This same determination that drives Toler to succeed in the classroom is evident when Toler is on the soccer field. As a goalie, Toler needs to know what is going on at all times and be able to communicate with her teammates. During normal games, this is no problem, but during the Deaflympics, this provided quite a challenge since all members of the team are required to take out any hearing devices.
Just to get on the team, however, was not small feat either. The first round of tryouts took place last July in Pittsburgh, followed by a second one in February in Atlanta and a third in Ohio. The whole time, Toler said, cuts and additions were being made, and that players weren’t sure who else was on the team until meeting in Turkey. The United States’ rival Russia, meanwhile, had been playing together for years, which had the US players a bit worried.
Once Toler was selected for the team, concern over how to pay to participate became an issue. As with any other obstacle she had come across in her life, $5,000 wasn’t going to deter Toler from playing for Team USA. In addition to a little sponsorship money and donations from US soccer star Brandi Chastain, Toler worked to earn money and went door-to-door asking friends, neighbors and family for any donation they could provide. But all the hard work was worth it the first time Toler stepped out onto the field in Turkey.
“It was unreal and breathtaking when we took the field for the first game,” Toler said. “This was the biggest tournament I had ever played in. It was everything we worked on for our whole lives. We needed to work as a team to advance in the tournament. Communication can be a problem in these type of games, but we were just going to have to make it work.”
In the first game, the United States prevailed over Russia 1-0. In the next match, a 4-1 win over Japan, Toler notched 90 minutes of playing time. The United States then crushed Germany 8-0 and followed that up with a 3-1 win over Poland. The only team left in their way of earning a gold medal was a rematch with Russia in the final. The United States prevailed with a second 1-0 victory over the Russians.
“We wanted it more,” Toler said a few weeks later about that win. “I had no doubt in my mind that we were going to win the gold medal.”
Now that Toler is back in the United States, she is getting accustomed to her new team. She said she is thrilled to be a part of the Georgia State family and brought back a lot of experience with her from Turkey. She was able to compete against other goalies, put in minutes on the field, continue to work on fitness and learn from other coaches.
“I’m extremely grateful for the experience I had this past summer,” Toler said. “Winning a gold medal is an experience I will never forget, but at the same time, I’m excited to show off what I’ve learned and have the best season possible.”