The lights glow in sequence, almost rhythmic as they cycle through. Blinking red flashes and then a steady red accompany the “on the block” command. Blue illuminates to tell swimmers to “take their mark.” Green means go — and that is triggered by the pool’s starting system.
Gallaudet University rising senior Faye Frez-Albrecht focuses on the colors inches from her face and practices her start to swim the backstroke.
Frez-Albrecht is deaf and legally blind. For the past two years, after she was disqualified from a meet because she did not make it to the starting blocks in time, Frez-Albrecht and her coach have led an effort to remove the competitive disadvantages athletes who are deaf and hard of hearing face in swim meets. The LED tube lights, tested repeatedly in the pool at Gallaudet, have been approved by the NCAA for use at the start of competitive races starting with the 2017-18 academic year.
It’s a victory for deaf swimmers competing in college, but Frez-Albrecht ultimately may be known as the swimmer who changed how the sport starts its races. Not only does the innovative light system make it possible for deaf swimmers to get a fair shot, it helps all swimmers improve their start times.
Light, after all, travels faster than sound.
See USA Today