When Jenny Woyahn was just 3 years old, her dad signed her up for pee wee tennis. She wore an oversized ball cap and waved to her family on the side of the court. Back then, tennis was something to keep the toddler busy. Some 25 years later, Jenny has finished a college tennis career and is set to compete -- for the second time -- at the Deaflympics in July.
In the United States, Jenny is considered "hard of hearing," though she is simply considered deaf in most countries. She grew up in a hearing world; her parents talked to her as a child and sent her to a public school where she had no special treatment other than speech therapy. She can communicate verbally and, with the help of hearing aids, understand others quite clearly.
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During her senior year at University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, Jenny tried out for the American Deaflympics tennis team and made the cut. She traveled to Taipei, Taiwan in the summer of 2009. Upon returning from the games, she was offered a position with Midtown Athletic Club of Palatine as a tennis instructor. Jenny immediately accepted and has been working there ever since. Jenny is now the Junior Director, and most of her time is committed to teaching kids ages 3-14 as part of their junior development program.
Almost four years of employment with Midtown has made the club feel like a second home to Jenny. When the time came for her to compete in the Deaflympics again, everyone at work was extremely supportive. Since the trip -- this year, to Sofia, Bulgaria -- is not funded, Midtown Athletic Club and its members are working to raise money and cover all costs for Jenny.
"I am extremely honored to have their support," Jenny says of the athletic club. "It's difficult to get two full weeks off from your job, but Midtown is so proud and understanding."
On Saturday, July 13, Midtown Athletic Club of Palatine will host an adult and junior tennis event for members. The event is followed by a send-off party for Jenny. Midtown is encouraging everyone to show their support through donations.
The challenges Jenny has overcome impact her life in many positive ways. "Having a disability has helped me learn about myself and define who I am," she says. "I try to be the best role model for my students and pride myself on being patient and confident."
The Deaflympics not only enhanced Jenny's tennis career, but it changed her life. She now has several international friends, all of whom are hearing-impaired tennis pros. She has traveled and experienced the cultures and languages of different countries. The most surprising revelation for Jenny? Sign language is not universal.
"I witnessed, for the first time, a completely deaf world, and it really opened my eyes," Jenny says.
This year, Jenny will have the opportunity to compete in three events: single, mixed doubles and women's doubles. She hopes to advance further than 2009, and her ultimate goal is to come home with a medal.