Running in Silence

Ben Fraser

Sue Matthews was born profoundly deaf, her early schooling years were spent surrounded by other people with auditory impairments, in a special school for the deaf.


In 2004 an operation to implant a revolutionary hearing device called a Cochlear Implant meant Sue was able to hear sound for the first time ever. It was at this point that Sue made her first connection with running.


In 2006 she ran the Manchester 10k solo in just over an hour and raised £4,447 for The Ear Trust but stopped running straight after this!


Speaking over a drink in Leeds we’re reliving parts of the Manchester 10k. I get the strong sense that running was and still is one of Sue’s demons…


The get up is hard but the reward is massive.


Sue is a keen golfer who has found the hilly courses more of a challenge as of late, leaving her out of breathe. With an awareness of her own cardio fitness shortcomings, subconsciously Sue found herself grabbing a Farsley Flyers leaflet. With the flyer stashed, her initial nudge return towards running was soon again forgotten. Sue wasn’t ready just yet, she needed one more prod!


In the lull between Xmas and New Year 2017 you may have spotted the national Public Health England campaign with evidence suggesting: ‘more than 15 million Britons are living with a long-term health condition’; of these the 40-60 age category is affected most by the associated diseases, including type 2 diabetes. Receiving this information was her ‘straw that broke the camel’s back’ moment.


For Sue, joining the Farsley Flyers was a no brainer. It was conveniently located on her doorstep and on enquiring Sue was greeted with an encouraging reply from the club.


With Sue poised to join a ‘mainstream’ sports club as a profoundly deaf participant I feel a statistic is warranted. In the UK there are 11 million people who are deaf or hard of hearing. Of a sample of these people…


Running is the most popular form of sport [in Yorkshire]. 80% would rather take part in a mixed environment with deaf and hearing people. With 1 in 5 people of these struggling with communication as the main barrier that prevents them from taking part in mainstream sport.


Before even turning up to a Farsley Flyers session, Sue is that 1 in 5 statistic that struggles with communication. Entering new social situations is a fear that Sue struggles to conquer due to her problem with communication. It is so strong that Sue dreads the thought of it, let alone doing it!


To make the situation even harder the runs were taking place in the middle of winter, on dark nights, reducing Sue’s ability to lip read, when her attention is focused on the path in front of her.


Despite these obstacles Sue joined the Farsley Flyers beginner group and found the experience positive.


Caroline [run leader] was very good and patient with me.


Sue attended throughout January but was frustrated to find the people she began to get friendly with would not be there the following week; this made the daunting task of turning up to a group of people that were unaware of her disability, a revolving Groundhog Day.


Yet, during her fourth session Sue met a runner who was able to communicate via sign language; this immediately had a transformative effect on her experience, connecting Sue to the session directives and general conversation within the group.


Since then she has forged new friendships with runners she sees week on week. At this moment in our conversation I make a conjecture that this was Sue’s turning point; taking a path much rejuvenated and full of confidence. I try to understand more what this meant to her by asking…


‘How someone with hearing could experience an ounce of what she goes through on a daily basis’.


Sue responds:


Just mute the T.V. and watch!




People can’t see deafness which makes it an invisible disability.


In a short space of time, Sue has brought a level of awareness of the needs of someone with her disability, to a mainstream physical activity club. The Farsley Flyers have astutely adapted to make Sue’s experience improve week on week – from using suitable forms of communication such as text, email and basic sign language to visual handouts and simply speaking clearly and slowly. 


In honour of Sue’s progress, the club awarded her the This Girl Can prize at their recent 2nd birthday party celebrations. Sue wasn’t in attendance to pick the prize up; an even more daunting situation to be put in and one she feels she could maybe conquer next year.


Sue is preparing to do the Leeds 10k in July this year. She wants to beat her Manchester 10k time of 1 hour and 8 seconds. Sue will fundraise in memory of her dad for ‘Take Heart’ – the main heart clinic in Leeds and West Yorkshire.



If you are a deaf runner in Leeds and West Yorkshire, and reading this has sparked a thought, please to get in touch and share your own experience by contacting Ben on 


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