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IRONMAN Triathlete with Hearing Loss

IRONMAN Triathlete with Hearing Loss

Pame Rubio is an IRONMAN athlete from Tamaulipas,  Mexico who happens to have hearing loss. She has always liked athletics and enjoys playing soccer. She wanted to try something different and found herself looking into becoming an IRONMAN athlete. Having competed in the IRONMAN November, 2022, Rubio plans to continue in her training to prepare for IRONMAN next year.

Competing with Hearing Loss

Being an IRONMAN athlete consists of overcoming three major feats: swimming 4k, biking 180k, and running 42k. Going through this course with hearing loss adds an additional layer of accomplishment. When Pame Rubio is swimming, the water in her ears decreases her ability to hear even more. With the wind rushing past loudly as she bikes, she is unable to fully hear the alerts given by the instructors. And even when she crosses the finish line after hours of being alone with her hearing loss and tinnitus, she can’t hear the crowd cheering for her. 

As if being an IRONMAN triathlete isn’t enough, Rubio earned her degree in civil engineering, works in a real estate consultancy group, and is passionate about her family. Her hearing loss has altered her journey, but she has become a stronger person. She shares her story on behalf of encouraging and standing alongside those experiencing a similar journey.

“Completing an IRONMAN is a celebration of what my body and mind is capable of,” Rubio says. “It reminds me that despite my hearing condition, my body is amazing, it is capable of so much, and it does so much for me.”

“Completing an IRONMAN is a celebration of what my body and mind is capable of. It reminds me that despite my hearing condition, my body is amazing, it is capable of so much, and it does so much for me.”

Hearing Loss Story

When she was younger, Rubio noticed that she didn’t hear everything. She thought she heard crickets in her room, which she later found out was tinnitus. Since the hearing loss was minimal at the time, the doctors didn’t recognize that it would progress. It wasn’t until her years in University that her hearing loss became more evident and disruptive. Having been diagnosed with moderate sensorineural hearing loss that is believed to be caused by an autoimmune condition, Rubio hasn’t let it stop her from living her life to the fullest.

However, her story is not without overcoming trials and learning to see her strength. Rubio admits to being embarrassed to needing hearing aids in college and not wanting to wear them. She was in denial of her hearing loss, which caused her to wait to utilize technology. Now, Rubio uses a Bluetooth hearing aid and is thankful to have improved hearing. Even though her hearing loss continues to progress, she states that she is thankful for the continuously improving hearing technology.

While her friends didn’t mean to hurt her, it affected her when they called her “deaf” or “distracted.” With her hearing loss being progressive and having on-going tinnitus, she shares that “there were times I thought about suicide. I know it sounds drastic, but I know now that I wasn’t alone in that feeling.”

Read more: Living with tinnitus: A personal account

The Impact of Friends and Family

In time, Rubio’s outlook on her life began to change. Rubio began to consistently use Phonak Paradise P90 hearing aids and an app that captions phone calls. Overcoming her shame of her hearing loss, she was able to embrace herself and see how technology was improving her quality of life. Rubio’s friends and family stand alongside her and have empowered her in her hearing loss.

“Now that I no longer hide my problem, I realize that most (if not all) people are very willing to help,” Rubio says. “My friends and my family didn’t see me as someone weak. If not, the opposite. I could have saved myself many moments of difficulty by telling the truth and being vulnerable.”

Rubio shares some tips based on how her family, friends, and colleagues have helped her:

  • Be understanding of the problem
  • Don’t treat the person differently, just adjust
  • Pronounce words well and speak loud enough to understand
  • Give the person an ideal seat when going out to eat so they can best understand everyone 
  • Be patient, as there will be times when you are asked to repeat a phrase or word. Do not say “better forget it” or “never mind,” as that makes people with hearing loss feel neglected and ignored
  • Don’t whisper
  • Be there on the person’s bad days; patience, encouragment, and support go a long way 

Read more: How to best communicate with someone with hearing loss

A Word of Encouragement

Rubio wants to be an advocate, not because she’s an influencer now, but because she has something to say. Before, she was ashamed to wear her hearing aids, or talk about her hearing loss. Now she wants to wear them with pride. “I want people who are going through the same to not feel alone as I sometimes felt,” she says.

But the most important thing Rubio has realized is that although denial is not the solution. “Defining yourself and making your life revolve around your hearing loss is not the solution either, since by doing that you miss out on how much you can do,” she says. “Yes, I’m a person with hearing loss, but I’m also a wife, daughter, sister, professional, IRONMAN triathlete, etc.”

Rubio’s message to the world is this: “To be honest, this is something I struggle with in the moment. There are definitely good days and bad days, but it’s hard to embrace the fact that I’ll probably be constantly losing my hearing. And to be honest, I am afraid. What this journey has taught me, and I hope this helps, is not to think only about what you are losing or what you cannot do, but to see all the things that your body does for you (walking, enjoying a meal, seeing , and in my case, triathlons!). Look for all the people around you who love you and everything you’ve accomplished despite your problem. Do not let yourself be defined by a condition; you are more than that. Every person in this world has a battle. We got this and we can move on.”


Author Details
Abigail Russell is a second-year medical school student at Indiana University School of Medicine. She is a bilateral hearing technology user, utilizing both a Phonak Naída and Cochlear Implant. Ever since she was diagnosed as a little girl, she has been an advocate for those with hearing loss. She loves spending time with people, enjoys coffee, and cuddles with her puppy, Rosie!