She was born deaf and wears cochlear implants in both ears—but that does not stop 16-year-old Dayle Paustian from excelling both on the Bridgewater-Raritan High School field hockey team and in her outside committments.
Paustian has sensorineural deafness, which she said means the hair cells in her cochlea are completely shattered.
"My parents did not know I was deaf until I was 3 years old," she said. "They had me using hearing aids, but they were not benefiting me whatsoever."
Despite attending both Bridgewater schools and the Summit Speech School to work on her language for five years, Paustian said, she was not communicating well with others and did poorly in her lessons.
"Then my mom was introduced to the advancements of cochlear implants, which benefit severely deaf people like myself," she said. "It required surgery where they put a magnet inside your ear."
The outer device she wears at the same time, Paustian said, collects sound and carries it into her ear.
And suddenly, Paustian said, everything changed.
"I can still remember the first day I got my first cochlear implant," she said. "It was in the summer when I was 7 years old and everything sounded so clear and profound."
"I was able to communicate with people better and my grades skyrocketed," Paustian, a current junior at the high school, added. "I got my second implant in my left ear my freshman year and it's been great ever since."
But in the middle of that battle, Paustian said, she began to fall in love with a sport.
When she was in sixth grade, Paustian said, she attended a high school varsity field hockey game with her mother, and was excited by what she saw.
"I was amazed by the speed and stick skills the girls had, and I wanted to be like them," she said. "My mom got me my first stick, and I would just go in the backyard and practice."
Paustian began playing field hockey officially when she joined the middle school team in seventh grade.
"I loved it even more because that's when I first started truly playing the game," she said.
But Paustian said her disability does make it a little difficult, and both her coaches and teammates help her through.
"As a player with a disability, you have to learn to advocate for yourself, and my teammates are always there for me," she said. "It is difficult because I have to listen closely to what the coaches are saying and sometimes ask to repeat."
On corner plays for example, Paustian said, her coach uses symbols to help her through, and sometimes her teammates will repeat commands if the coach has shouted something.
"It's the extra effort that helps a person cope with a disability," she said.
Aside from her work on the field hockey team, Paustian said she has worked with coach Kathie DeBonis at Panthers camps over the summer, and has spent time babysitting. She said she loves working with children, but, most importantly, wants to work with children suffering from a similar disability.
"I figured out that I always wanted to work with deaf children and people," Paustian said. "I enjoy helping people, and, with deaf children, it's hard for them because learning these new sounds is difficult to get used to."
Paustian said she believes she can relate to the children, and hopes to mentor deaf children one day.
"I feel like I can relate to their struggles," she said. "I either want to be an audiologist or psychologist. I am in advanced placement psychology, and I am in love with that class."
No matter what, Paustian said, she is proud of what she has accomplished, and has goals for the future.
"Don't let your disability hold you back from pursuing your dreams," she said. "I've had people doubt me playing sports or even doing well in school."
"Just keep working hard and don't ever give up, no matter how hard it gets," she added. "In the end, the result is worth it."