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Swimming in Silence

Source: FOX 8 Source: FOX 8
(WVUE) -

Of all the swimming pools in all of Louisiana, the one on LSU's campus is where an Olympic champion and world record holder is still working on his craft.

"I don't want to let my parents down, my coaches or my team," said sophomore swimmer Matt Klotz,

In a pool full of elite swimmers, Klotz is trying to find his place. The rings on his back suggest that sooner rather than later, he will. But there's an even bigger story at play here. Matt's success in the pool has come with a caveat.

"You go to the deaf Olympics, you go to those meets and it’s a smaller competition field," said LSU Head Coach Dave Geyer. "The talent level isn’t as high."

It's the reality of the sport for Klotz, who's greatest successes have come against deaf competition. The medals he's won, five golds, a couple of silvers and a bronze, came at the deaf Olympic games in both Turkey and Bulgaria. The world records he set and still holds came again athletes that see and hear life like he does.

"I really don't hear anything. I guess you can hear the water going in and out of my ears but if people are cheering i don't hear them."

It's how life in the pool has always been for Klotz, who was born deaf. And, at the urging of his parents, hehad to figure out how to live a normal life.

Early on it wasn't easy.

"I just hated not being able to do things with friend," said Klotz.  "I kind of felt left out. It was hard to make friends at school because I can't hear the conversation."

And it was that lack of interaction with his peers that pushed him back to his first love, to where he always felt the most comfortable. Because ever since he was a kid growing up in Sacramento, Klotz always saw the pool as his sanctuary because it was always the one place that he could always go and feel like he fit in.

Lia Joslin is Klotz's girlfriend and teammate at LSU and she saw early on what the pool meant to him.

"It's a lot for him. Whenever he's having a really hard time he always knows he can come here to get his mind off everything and swim and forget everything else."

"Swimming is where I get my confidence a lot and I feel good about something I go do," said Klotz.

And what he's trying to do in this pool is contribute to his team's overall success. It's something he's yet to do since arriving on campus. The challenges that Klotz had with fitting in as a kid have somewhat followed him to LSU. It's taken time for all sides to get on the same page, verbally speaking.
 
"They say something and he's like what and they say how do you did you not hear that," said Joslin. "And he's like, 'I'm deaf,' and they're like, 'Oh yeah.'"

"He puts himself in view of the coach and he can read lips and really pay attention to what he’s doing," said Coach Geyer.

"At the start of the conversation, I will always say what because i won't hear. I have to focus on the sentences, said Klotz. So someone behind me or if someone comes up talking, I'm not gonna hear the first thing they say. But through the conversation i understand."

What he's never had a problem understanding is how to be the fastest in the lane and being deaf has its advantages.

"My senses are heightened," Klotz said. "It's an advantage and a disadvantage. When you're on the block you don't want to say anything. You just want to do the race and all I can think about is the start."

His fast starts have led to better performances against the best competition he's ever faced. Also, Klotz has learned that winning with team USA during the summer doesn't guarantee him any wins with LSU in the fall

It's been a hard lesson learned. But, the signs are there that he's building towards something special.

"We need to see that championship mentality that he had this summer and get it in this environment, the college environment," said Geyer. "Regardless of where were at in the race, I want him to drive harder and get faster and I absolutely think he can get there."

Meanwhile, Klotz's focus is on doing everything he can, while at LSU, to be the best that he can.

"I don't want to leave regretting anything because that's a big thing for a lot of athletes. They finish and they regret not trying their hardest or knowing  they had a little bit left to give. I want to give my best every day, 100% for the next couple of years and however longer I go after LSU. Then and only then will I be happy with how I did."

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