As a profoundly deaf Commonwealth Games swimmer who broke so many records despite not being able to hear the starter gun, Cindy-Lu Bailey OAM (formerly Cindy-Lu Fitzpatrick) is an inspiration for many deaf and hard of hearing children and young people today to break through their own barriers. She shared her thoughts with us when she visited DCA and Victorian College for the Deaf recently.
What inspired you when you were young?
“I wasn’t until I started swimming. It was Beverley Whitefield who is Australian Breaststroker champion, who loves all different type of sports just like I do.”
What were some of the barriers or other challenges you have faced?
“The lack of communication and support at the AIS when I trained there. The inability to understand coaches, psychologists, team meetings, everyday stuff that makes you feel you belong. I didn’t have that type of experience to the degree I get support like this now.”
How did you find your passion for swimming?
“I enjoyed meeting people, going to the swim meets, competing with my team mates, and challenging wins.”
What drove you to achieve so much success?
“The first was that I enjoyed swimming so much and the second was wanting to be the best that I could possibly be at what I loved to do.”
What inspires you now?
“Seeing kids’ smile on their faces when they play sports. That’s super!”
What advice would you like to give deaf and hard of hearing children?
“Find your passion /love, do it well and with all your heart and soul. Don’t be hesitant to ask for help.”
What do you think we need to improve in our community today to provide a supportive, inclusive environment for deaf and hard of hearing children and young people?
“Greater accessibility and greater understanding of the impact deafness can have on young and old. We need to actively be educating schools on how to better access strategies which will not only benefit deaf kids but also all those who potentially could become deaf.”
Cindy’s Extraordinary Achievements
As reported in One in Six previously, Cindy-Lu, who has been profoundly deaf since birth, became one of Australia’s most accomplished swimmers to represent her country at two Commonwealth games and two Pan Pacific games. ‘She also competed at six Deaflympics games over a 20 year span. Unable to hear the starter’s gun, Cindy had to rely on vibrations or watch the reflexes of the swimmer next to her to prompt her to start. Often having the slowest reaction time off the blocks due to her deafness meant that Cindy had to work her way from the back of the field to the front.
Despite this she was ranked in the top 16 on the 1982 Speedo World Rankings list. At just 12 years of age, she won the first of her many medals with a bronze in 1977 at the Romanian Deaflympics. At 16, she set new Australian records in winning both the Australian and American national open age championships in the 100 and 200m breaststroke. In 1982 she was unlucky not to win a gold medal at the Commonwealth Games when her medley relay team was disqualified for breaking early in a changeover. At the Canada Cup in 1984 she broke three Australian records during the meet. At a national level, Cindy-Lu held the Australian title in the 100/200 m breaststroke double in 1981, 1982 and 1986. In 1983 she held the 200 m title at the Australian titles.
At the Deaflympics she dominated winning the 100/200 m breaststroke double at 5 successive games from 1981 till her retirement from international swimming in 1997. She won 19 gold, 4 silver and 5 bronze medals. During this time she broke 18 Deaflympics records and would still be holding them had it not been for fast suit technology of 2009. It was her success at the Deaflympics that elevated her to be the ‘most decorated woman in Deaflympic history’ by its governing organisation.
In many ways she has been a pioneer for sportswomen with a disability. In 1985 she was awarded the OAM for her contribution to sport and people with disabilities as well as being awarded the prestigious Australian Sports Award Junior Sportswomen category well before a disability category became part of its program.
In 2002 she was the only woman to be inducted in the NSW Hall of Champions.
Cindy has recently been working at the University of Newcastle as an Auslan teacher. Cindy-Lu also works as a Technical Director of swimming for the International Committee of Sports for the Deaf (ICSD) which is the governing body of the Deaflympics.’
View Deaf Australia’s Auslan clip with an interview with Cindy-Lu and great footage of her races.