The Post-Journal

Family Joins In Cheering Champ

Tonight is “Karen Night at the Ball Park” when Olympian Karen Tellinghuisen, Falconer’s native daughter, will be honored just before the 7:30 p. m. Jamestown Expos ball game.

Karen, who will be 19 on Friday, won the gold medal in the javelin throw at the International Deaf Olympics in July.

In Buchrest, Romania, she threw the javelin 127 feet, 3 inches. The strawberry blond teenager would like to eventually break the world record in javelin throwing by all deaf people. Another girl once threw the javelin 142 feet but not during competition.

There has been more rah-rahing for Karen in Falconer this summer than she probably ever saw when she was a school cheerleader a couple of years ago. Her family has also shared in this enthusiasm as was seen when Karen was interviewed recently during lunch.

Seated around the kitchen table, they carried on a conversation as divergent as any family’s during the meal hour.

Mrs. Tellinhuisen fixed her daughters, Karen and Dorine, a sandwich as the eldest daughter, Connie, came through the back door with her son, Jason. A brother, Wayne, lives in Florida.

“I learned finger spelling from Karen so I can talk to her friends,” said Dorine as she also mouthed words to help explain questions to her sister.

The development of speech has been emphasized in the Tellinghuisen household since the Buffalo Speech and Hearing Clinic advised the family to help Karen talk as much as possible. Families are taught to learn a total communication program and finger spelling is good for rapid communication.

Karen’s deafness was diagnosed as a neurological impairment, but not until she was 16 months old.

“I had a lot of problems in the early stages of pregnancy and Karen was born prematurely,” Mrs. Tellinghuisen said. “Deaf children babble on just like normal children so I didn’t suspect anything.”

My sister discovered it and we didn’t waste any time,” she said.

Karen’s attendance at St. Mary’s, a private school on Buffalo, gave her the chance to compete in the javelin, an event not offered in public schools since someone was fatally hurt with the sharp shaft in New England, the family noted.

The Tellinghuisens gave St. Mary’s athletic programs particular praise. The students can participate in all kinds of sports and use nearby facilities such as Canisius College’s swimming pool. The newest sport is a gymnastic team, they said.

Karen had to train very hard physically for the Romanian games but because finger spelling is not a universal language she didn’t have to learn any foreign words to communicate with the competitors from all over the world.

After the javelin throw, the Russian who finished third walked up to Karen to feel her muscle, recalled Mrs. Tellinghuisen who watched her daughter make the winning throw. “She couldn’t believe a girl that size could throw that far.”

What kind of discipline did it take for Karen to prepare herself for the Olympics?

She avoided snacks and went to bed no later than 10 p. m. While she was in her training routine, she would come home on the weekends very tired, taking time only to do her academic subjects, said her father.

The key to Karen’s winning the gold medal was easy for her to explain. She pointed to her head, indicating it was mostly a mental thing.

But her father said a javelin thrower runs sideways in such a way that if he were to stop and stand in that position, he would look as if his legs were deformed.

Karen was impressed by the flowers in the very old city of Bucharest. But she was surprised to see that buses and cars have the right of way and “can go 60 miles an hour through town and park on the sidewalks.”

After the Olympics, Karen came home accompanied by her boyfriend, Gary, of Tonawanda. Falconer Mayor Laurence Dye presented her with a key to the village and later Karen visited Gary where the mayor of Tonawanda made her an honorary citizen.

All of this attention has given the Tellinghuisens and especially Karen an opportunity they have wanted for a long time to educate the public on the potential of deaf people.

Their experience has been that some people still continue to use the outdated term deaf-and-dumb when they meet people like Karen who, though they cannot hear, can speak. As the dictionary says, the adjective deaf-and-dumb is now considered opprobrious.

“Even mutes are not dumb,” declared Dorine. A deaf-mute is a deaf person who has not learned to speak, but Karen, though her speech is not that of a hearing person’s, can talk.

Karen had her first look at Washington, D. C., this year when she attended the tryouts for the Deaf Olympics. She hopes to go back to the capitol to attend Gallaudet College after she graduates.

As the “60 Minutes” program noted on television recently, Gallaudet is considered the best school in the world for the deaf. Karen has proven to be the best in the world in one area of physical fitness and she aims to continue her record of excellence in academics as well.

The additional financial assistance of the community is critical to the success of the Chautauqua Sports Hall of Fame.
We gratefully acknowledge these individuals and organizations for their generous support.