Sarah Faber, who has cochlear implants, remembers the first time she became aware that train crossings had alarm sounds along with the flashing lights. Or when she heard the bells on her cat’s collar. Or one of her favorite sounds—the wind rustling trees and leaves.
Hearing is something that has always been a challenge for Faber, a graduate of Calvin College.
Diagnosed with hearing loss at the age of 3, Faber attended deaf-oral schools near her home in Midland Park, N.J.
“It was a total communication program,” Faber said. “There were just five or six kids in the classroom. Our teacher wore a microphone and the kids each had a box that helped us hear her.”
Faber attended a variety of schools prior to college and learned to cope with her hearing difficulties through sign language, lip reading, and other techniques. A natural athlete, she also played four sports in high school—basketball, softball, soccer, and track—and earned a record 12 varsity letters.
“I never felt like my limited hearing should hold me back,” she said. “I never wanted to miss out on anything, and I felt like I heard enough. I just might ask you to repeat something.”
She has since spent her career passing on those skills and that determination to young people, particularly those who are deaf and hard of hearing. Currently she works long hours as a program specialist with deaf and hard-of-hearing kids and their families for the Chicago Park District.
In addition, she coaches a women’s hard-of-hearing basketball team and supervises two men’s teams.
Basketball has always held a special place for Faber. At the age of 18, she was selected as a member of the U.S. women’s national team for the Deaflympics, where her team won the gold medal. She repeated as a team member in 1997.
In between, Faber played basketball for Liberty University (then Liberty Baptist) before transferring to Calvin where she played for Coach Don Vroon for three years. “I loved playing at Calvin. But because of the way I was coached for the national team and at Liberty I was a little too aggressive boxing out. At first I fouled out a lot,” she said with a smile.
She admits to college being a struggle and appreciated Calvin providing an interpreter for her classes.
Faber began in special education but shifted to recreation with a psychology minor. She did an internship at Wedgwood Family Services, which grew into a full-time recreational therapy position after graduation.
At age 30, her hearing deteriorated even more. She had to end her work at Wedgewood and go back home to assess her options.
“This was a very hard time for me,” she said. “I lost my independence. Hearing aids helped, but not as they had before. It was faith that pulled me through.”
Faber had many friends from work and basketball in Grand Rapids and Chicago and was looking to move back to the Midwest. She first landed a position in Elgin, Ill., and soon after that moved to the Chicago Park District, where she’s been for the last 18 years.
“I have this passion that I want to give back to others with the same challenge that I’ve faced, whether that’s advocating for the women I coach or the kids I work with at summer camps or in teen club,” she said.
At the age of 39, Faber experienced yet one more traumatic loss of hearing ability. She spent a year living in a totally silent world.
“I decided to get cochlear implants (devices that amplify and process sounds), and that’s been very successful in my case,” she said.
Faber remains energized in her work. She said that when she works with kids, she often pulls her hair back so they can see the processors around each ear.
“I keep saying that I’ve been through something special, and now God’s put me here for a reason,” she said. “The kids and their families trust me. They know I understand what they are going through.”