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Deaf student-athlete hopes to be
example for others facing obstacles
Dec. 22, 2014
Some people run away from challenges. Community College of Rhode Island student Joe Gareri prefers to run toward them.
Gareri has made great strides as a member of the cross country and track and field teams in his time at the college, improving his times and excelling off the field and in the classroom, too.
For Gareri, the victories show a little more perseverance than the average student. Born deaf, he has faced additional challenges adjusting to life as a student-athlete at the college. But he said he relies on the discipline and tenacity that he brings to his races to drive him forward in the rest of his life, too.
"When I joined the team, it was a struggle. I was competing with experienced runners, and communication was an issue; I didn't feel comfortable as an outsider. But as I made gains and met my goals, my self-esteem really took off, and that transferred to my studies," he said, speaking with the aid of Paul Giard, who is one of the ASL interpreters the college employs to assist students.
The typical adjustment period most students transitioning from high school face was more intense for Gareri, who attended the Rhode Island School for the Deaf in Providence, where he could communicate with anyone and everyone. There was some isolation involved in coming to CCRI, where he is integrated with hearing students in the classroom and around campus.
Gareri, who lives in Seekonk, Massachusetts, credits his coaches and teammates with helping to make him feel welcome. At first they were able to communicate by writing notes and speaking one on one so he could read lips, and some of them have expressed an interest in learning to sign by asking him how to sign certain words and phrases, he said.
Off the field, he relies on accessibility measures provided through the college's Disability Services for Students office to help him choose classes, arrange interpreters and bridge any gaps that he might encounter.
"I have interpreters and note-takers in every class, and I sit at the front," he said. "CCRI has a wonderful Disability Services office; they provide accessibility measures for whatever disability you might have."
Gareri also said he has made ample use of the Student Success Center during his time here, calling it a valuable resource for any student. "If you need help or tutoring or a place to do homework, that's a great option," he said.
The gains that Gareri has made in the classroom and on the course are one of the reasons that Head Coach Gregg Cornell values Gareri's contributions to the team.
"Joe has been a great team member over the past two years. He is a hard worker who has helped his teammates by example. We hope he will continue his development as a runner and student in the years to come," said Cornell.
Looking ahead, Gareri said he hopes to enter the college's Occupational Therapy Assistant program. "I like helping people," he said, adding that his interest in the field was sparked by a number of physical therapist assistants that he has met while on campus, as well as a physical therapist in North Dartmouth, Massachusetts, who let him spend the day with her observing therapeutic activities.
While Gareri is speeding toward the future, he said he hopes to be an example for other students who may have disabilities or obstacles to overcome.
"We all have challenges," he said. "It's not easy, but you can do it if you persevere. I feel that if I can do it, anybody can. Just don't give up."